Gloria Jane Merculief, Deg Hit’an Athabaskan, was the first Alaska Native to die from complications related to COVID-19. She was 63.

Her family said that Merculief woke up on March 21 with what seemed to be a stomach flu. She was weak and dizzy, struggling to walk up and down the stairs.

On Monday she was weaker and went to the emergency room at Alaska Native Medical Center. There she was tested for the coronavirus and she was sent home on quarantine. By Tuesday Merculief had a hard time breathing. She returned to the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital. Her test had come back positive.

A day later the family received another call. This time the news was that pneumonia had gotten into her lungs. The family was told by nurses “to be prepared that she may not make it through the illness.”

Her oxygen levels continued to decline on Thursday “at this point the nurses let us know that she was going to die and it was just a matter of time” and that she would be comfortable.

Merculief died Friday morning at 9:40 am ADT.

“Gloria (aka, Glo, Glo-Bug, Strawberry Girl, Gloodge, Glory), was probably the most sweet and humble person you could ever meet.” her family wrote. “A family friend posted the best description of her on Facebook that said she was a, “Beautiful soul, accepting, peaceful, and calm.” Gloria was known for her easy giggle and good-natured spirit and she loved to laugh until tears rolled down her face. Gloria’s life was filled with adventure from riding in our family’s houseboat up and down the Yukon river, to riding her bike from California to Seattle, to flying solo in a plane out of the Honolulu airport when she was stationed there in the Navy in the 1980’s. Her positive and loving presence will be deeply missed by her children, husband, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings, and numerous cousins and friends.”

The family said to “thank the nurses at ANMC for being there with Gloria when we could not, we asked them to play her music, specifically the song, “You Are My Sunshine” and they did, they called us regularly to keep us updated, and they said they were making her as comfortable as possible. They held the phone up to Gloria’s ear while her brother talked with her and prayed with her, and did it again for her husband to express his last words of love to her.”

Like many families, they wrote, “the most difficult part of all of this, beyond Gloria’s suffering, was knowing that she was without family during her last hours. We prayed for the nurses that were there with her and had faith that they were doing their best to comfort her and care for Gloria in a good way.”

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