27-Year-Old Md. Grocery Store Worker Dies of Coronavirus: 'Like a Hole in My Heart'

Leilani Jordan's brother said his sister had cerebral palsy, and was considered the family's "miracle baby"

Leilani Jordan
Photo: GoFundMe

A 27-year-old grocery store worker in Maryland who was devoted to helping people has died after contracting coronavirus, said her devastated family, who believe she was exposed to COVID-19 at work.

Leilani Jordan, whose mom Zenobia Shepherd lovingly referred to as “Butterfly,” was admitted to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on March 26, Shepherd wrote on a GoFundMe page. She died on April 1, according to the Washington Post and Fox affiliate WTTG.

Leilani’s brother Cedrick Jordan told WTTG that his sister, who worked as a greeter at a Giant supermarket in Largo, had cerebral palsy, and was considered the family’s “miracle baby.”

He said her symptoms were initially mild, and he was confident that she’d make a full recovery even after she was taken to the hospital.

“It was so fast. And I speak to my sister every day. When she was admitted, she was challenged, she was struggling with her respiratory health, and I could tell,” he said. “But it did not seem as severe as what it ended up being. And it just escalated so fast.”

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Shepherd told the Washington Post her daughter’s disability caused “cognitive delays,” and that vision impairment meant she relied on a service dog, but that Leilani was committed to her job.

She said Leilani was particularly sympathetic to elderly customers, and felt strongly about continuing to go to work to help them out.

“She said, ‘Mommy, I’m going to work because no one else is going to help the senior citizens get their groceries.’ She only stopped going to work when she could no longer breathe,” Shepherd, who did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, told the Post.

Leilani loved going to church and singing, as well as getting her hair done and the color purple, her mom said.

“It’s like a hole in my heart,” Shepherd said through tears on CNN. “Because all she wanted to do was just help people. She wanted to help and make a difference.”

She added that she felt Giant management and leadership needed to step in to make sure that seniors and other vulnerable people had the help they needed “so that they’re not put into situations where they can lose their lives.”

A spokesperson for the supermarket — which did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment — told WTTG that the store learned of Leilani’s diagnosis on March 28, but that she had not worked since March 16.

“We are saddened to confirm that a store associate from our Campus Way South location in Largo passed away from COVID-19,” Giant said in a statement to WTTG. “We were informed of her passing on Thursday morning by her family. We can only imagine the heartache they are experiencing and have offered our support during this difficult time. We have also shared the news with our team at that location and are providing counseling resources through our Employee Assistance Program.”

“We were made aware that the associate was sick on March 28th,” the statement continued. “She had not worked at the store since March 16th, so we do not believe any other associates or customers are at risk. Regardless, following the guidance from health authorities, we have taken appropriate actions to keep our associates and our customers safe while we continue to provide an essential service to our communities, including additional cleaning and disinfecting of the store that took place when we learned of the associate’s diagnosis. We encourage our associates and customers to continue taking steps to prevent the spread of any germs and to follow the recommendations from the CDC, including regular handwashing, social distancing and staying home when sick.”

The supermarket’s website outlines various precautions they’ve taken to protect employees as well, including plastic face shields for all associates and plexiglass shields at cash registers, pharmacies and customer service desks.

Her brother Cedrick warns that coronavirus comes on strong, and quickly.

“Do not take this lightly. COVID-19, do not think it’s a façade or it’s a joke because it’s not,” he told WTTG. “It’s severe. Be safe. I lost my best friend. Please be safe.”

As of Wednesday morning, there were 4,371 cases and 104 deaths attributed to coronavirus in Maryland, according to The New York Times. The United States, meanwhile, had 397,754 cases and 12,956 deaths attributed to the virus.

Meanwhile, GoFundMe.org, the company’s non-profit and advocacy arm, has launched a fundraiser that offers support for organizations and individuals affected by coronavirus, the platform said in a statement provided to PEOPLE.

“By donating to the GoFundMe.org general relief fund, the donation supports many individuals who have started fundraisers on GoFundMe related to this pandemic, and organizations dedicated to serving the people,” the company said. “Donations to the general relief fundraiser of GoFundMe.org, a United States charity, are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law, and will broadly support communities impacted by coronavirus.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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