As the manager of a Taco Bell in Denham Springs, Shonda Brown has spent most of the coronavirus pandemic working nonstop as an essential worker to keep the restaurant running.
It wasn’t until she was found unconscious in the store’s bathroom and an ambulance was called that Brown, 46, was forced to stop working.
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Even in her groggy state, Brown insisted to her husband and others that she was fine, that she didn’t need to go to the hospital.
When she arrived at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, staff discovered that her blood sugar was dangerously high and her oxygen levels were low. She was immediately placed on a ventilator and died nine days later on July 15 of complications from COVID-19 and other medical conditions.
Brown’s death is one of the latest in the impact of the coronavirus on East Baton Rouge Parish. The parish reached several milestones for the virus this week, including the total number of deaths from the COVID-19 disease surpassing 300 since the outbreak began in the state.
The parish also surpassed 9,000 cases amid a major testing surge that nearly doubled the average daily number of tests completed in the region since July 1.
Brown’s death was unexpected and shocking, his family said.
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It was not the first coronavirus death the extended family has suffered: the other parent who died was older and had a host of health conditions that made it more likely she would be susceptible to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
But Brown was a health enthusiast who stocked her cupboards with protein shakes and vitamins while pursuing a steady career working multiple jobs. She was an energetic, funny and outspoken presence wherever she went, her family said.
“His life was the job himself and his family,” said his sister, Raynesia Brown. “If she couldn’t work, she probably would have died of this.”
No one had a clue she was sick until that day at Taco Bell. An infection doctors discovered after she was admitted accelerated Shonda Brown’s decline, her family said, forcing her to fight two battles on the same front.
She leaves behind a husband, two adult sons and a united family struggling to reconcile a life without her.
When her niece, Deashea Brown, went to collect her aunt’s belongings from the hospital after her death, she received Shonda Brown’s cross necklace, wedding ring and work uniform.
“It’s still so surreal,” her niece said. “It takes a while before it hits you and you’re like, I can’t call you anymore, I can’t talk to you anymore.”
Besides her aunt’s ambition and drive, Deashea Brown said she was also kind and generous, bringing her love of cooking to support others.
Last Thanksgiving, for example, Shonda Brown and her husband traveled to her hometown of Maringouin to feed the homeless — though she ended up feeding the whole town. And for the major holidays, Brown would open her home to her family, known as the ones who “cook their tails,” her niece said.
“The way Shonda lives, she lives in the middle of everyone,” Deashea Brown said.
Other family members are struggling to have peace of mind after a grueling week and a half in which they were told Shonda Brown was improving and then, just as abruptly, going off course.
Raynesia Brown arrived at OLOL to say goodbye to her older sister the morning she died. She didn’t know how long she would have, but she had immediately boarded a plane from Georgia the night before when she learned her sister had gotten worse.
In the hospital, she stood behind a glass wall for a little while, watching her sister on the ventilator. Eventually, she was allowed to put on glasses, a dress and slippers and stand next to her sister’s bed.
About half an hour after he arrived, his sister died.
“AAt least I was able to be by her side for many minutes before she died,” Raynesia Brown said. “I feel like she was waiting for me.”
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