Snapshots — and fond memories of a better time.
“He’s always there for me. I’m sorry. Every time I needed help with something, he was there. He was always very funny, he would joke around with me,” said Ixchel Ortiz.
Ixchel Ortiz is mourning the loss of her father — Ezequiel. The 52-year-old was an immigrant from Puebla, Mexico. His restaurant in Woodside, Queens — is named for his home state.
We interviewed him just three months ago about quality of life issues caused by a homeless encampment near his restaurant.
“Sometime the people don’t want to come in through," Ezequiel told NY1, back in January.
Off camera — he showed us his empathy. Telling us he how he gave the homeless men food and offered some of them jobs in his restaurant.
Ixchel says her father was forced to stop working two weeks ago — when he came down with headaches and a fever. A week later -- as he learned his sister died from coronavirus, his symptoms grew worse.
“He started having breathing problems. Every time he breathed it was so loud, it was like he was gasping for air the whole time,” said Ixchel.
Ixchel says at this point her mom had to close the restaurant to care for her husband. On April 1, Ixchel called 311 for advice on what to do. Although her father was exhibiting tell-tale symptoms of COVID-19, she was told because his fever had eased he could not be tested, would not be admitted to the hospital and should monitor his symptoms at home.
“They were like, sorry we can’t. If you do call the hospital or 911 they’re not going to take your father in. He doesn’t have the requirement for the symptoms to take him into the hospital,” said Ixchel.
Ezequiel died at home Tuesday night — surrounded by his family.
“I understand that all the medical people are just very overwhelmed and stressed. I understand that. But I think if they would have took him in, he’d still be here," said Ixchel.
The number of deaths at home or on the street in the city has surged eightfold in April, compared to the same time last year, a jump attributed in part to the pandemic. But it's impossible to know if Ezequiel would have survived had he been hospitalized.
"But it’s certainly something people have been worried about for some time. At first, people were thinking about the possibility of having to ration limited ventilators. And now, we’re worried if people are going to be admitted in hospitals at all,” said Adam Lerner, an Assistant Professor at the Center for Bioethics at the NYU School of Public Health.
The Ortiz family plans to cremate Ezequiel — and hopes to hold a memorial service in Mexico, when the pandemic ends.
Ixchel says it’s not clear if they’ll be able to reopen his restaurant — adding to the financial burden they’re facing.
To help, a relative has set up a GoFundMe page.