Healthcare worker 'was a great grandma'

Lilly Tsosie died from COVID-19 on June 17, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Lacey Williams)

Kalle Benallie

PORTRAITS FROM THE PANDEMIC

Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today 

Lacey Williams was waiting for her mom, Lilly Tsosie, at the Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona and spotted her minivan driving up. As the grandchildren opened the doors, all Williams could hear was the song “California Love” by Tupac featuring Dr. Dre blaring out the speakers.

“She came out, and she was dancing around with her grandkids,” Williams said. “That said it all right there. She loved her grandkids.”

Tsosie, Navajo, is survived by seven grandchildren and her four daughters, Lacey, Lindsay, Lauren and Lana. Lacey is the eldest daughter.

“She was like the backbone of our family,” Williams said, whose favorite memories of her mom were those loving moments.

Tosise worked as a phlebotomist, a technician who takes blood samples from patients or blood donors, at the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico, for 30 years.

Her family expressed their concern about Tsosie working during the pandemic. They asked her to take some time off. It wasn't until the hospital offered two weeks off that she paused working.

Williams said her mother assured them she would be OK to work: “This is my job, I have to go. I have to help others, and if I don’t do it then who’s going to do it?”

It’s believed that Tsosie was exposed around May 11 when she was called in during her time off because of short staffing. She would work on the COVID-19 floor.

On May 14, Tsosie began experiencing symptoms, such as a headache, fever and cough. She arranged with her boss to have a test, and the next day it was confirmed that she contracted the novel coronavirus.

Williams said her mother was at home for about a week and was admitted to a hospital because of her low oxygen level.

Tsosie was then intubated and flown to the Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, June 2. Her 65th birthday was on June 8.

On June 17, Tsosie died.

Lilly Tsosie died from COVID-19 on June 17, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Lacey Williams)
Lilly Tsosie died from COVID-19 on June 17, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Lacey Williams)

The San Juan Regional Medical Center coordinated a procession on June 19 from the hospital in Albuquerque to Farmington. About 20 to 30 cars, filled with family, followed her on the 182-mile journey.

The procession passed San Juan Regional Medical Center, where staff clapped and saluted Tsosie, and held signs that read, “Our hero Lilly,” “You fought a great battle. Forever in our hearts. #TsosieStrong,” and “Lilly #LabStrong.” Williams was overwhelmed.

“She did love what she was doing for the community, and all this support shows she meant a lot to others too,” Williams said. “We loved it. We weren’t expecting that many people out there. It was nice to see that.”

Williams and her siblings want to reiterate her mother’s plea for COVID-19 awareness by social distancing and taking the necessary precautions.

“We like everyone to please wear their mask. Whether you want to or not, it’s protecting somebody’s loved one,” she said. “It’s protecting our healthcare workers.”

Tsosie’s longtime co-worker at the San Juan Regional Medical Center, Lu Ann Davis, said they were texting each other until Tsosie suddenly stopped replying back. Davis later found out her friend was flown to Albuquerque.

And when she found out she passed away weeks later, “I just fell apart.”

“I just loved her. She was very influential. She taught me a lot about life and taught me just a lot about taking care of people,” Davis said.

She remembers Tsosie as someone who everyone went to for help and advice during training. Even when her daughter, Shaylee Klock, was a new nurse, Tsosie was there to lend a hand.

Klock said in a Facebook post that when she moved to the pediatrics department, she was happy to see Tsosie because of her ability to take blood without inserting the needle multiple times.

“I knew she could get blood from babies with only one stick 99 percent of the time. In the ER, she would come to draw blood when others had tried and failed,” she said.

Tsosie even took Klock’s blood when she became a mother of three boys.

“I was always glad to see her, and she always gave me a hug.” Klock said. “Lilly gave love and care with everything that she did.”

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Kalle Benallie, Navajo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @kallebenallie or email her at kbenallie@indiancountrytoday.com

Read more Portraits from the Pandemic: https://indiancountrytoday.com/obituaries/

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