Couple Die 1 Day Apart from Coronavirus, Leaving Daughter to Raise 5 Siblings
A California couple died a day apart from each other due to coronavirus complications, leaving behind five young children who are now being cared for by their step-sister.
On Sunday, 60-year-old Los Angeles resident Humberto Ruelas-Rivas succumbed to coronavirus nearly a week after he was taken to a local hospital, his daughter, Maria Ruelas, told KTLA. But shortly after his death, the family was delivered another excruciating blow — Ruelas-Rivas' wife, 38-year-old Karina Bonilla, died of the disease just hours later.
“Within six days of them being admitted, I lost my father. And within eight hours, I lost my stepmother," Ruelas told KTLA through tears. "And now I have five kids."
Ruelas, 35, is now in charge of raising her five siblings, whose ages range from 2 to 17. Her 30-year-old sister was also diagnosed with coronavirus and suffered a stroke. According to Ruelas, her sister is still hospitalized.
"It’s gonna be a struggle," Ruelas, who is now planning to legally adopt her siblings, told the station. "I don’t have children of my own and now I know maybe this is the reason why."
It's unclear if either Ruelas-Rivas or Bonilla — whose family did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment — suffered from any pre-existing medical conditions prior to contracting the virus.
People ages 65 and older are at a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus, as are people with underlying medical conditions, including heart conditions, obesity, diabetes, liver disease and chronic kidney disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All but 6 percent of patients who needed hospitalization had one pre-existing condition, and the majority — 88 percent — had two or more, according to a large study of thousands of patients in New York City that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help Ruelas care for her siblings, and it has raised more than $37,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
"Your prayers and any type of contribution you can provide will be immensely appreciated," a description on the donation page reads. "Dear Lord, we pray that you protect and guide these innocent children who are left to fend for themselves."
"May the souls of Karina and Humberto be Resting in eternal Peace," it continues. "May the family find the strength to move past this tragedy."
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Ruelas believes Bonilla was the first to contract the disease, likely from someone she worked with who reportedly had coronavirus symptoms but did not self-isolate.
“She went to work and in less than a week she started presenting symptoms,” Ruelas told KTLA. “She went home and then my father started getting sick.”
Like so many other families around the country who have lost a loved one to coronavirus, Ruelas wasn't able to be with her father in his final hours due to safety restrictions in place by the hospital. She called the experience "devastating."
With so many states looking to reopen and relax social-distancing restrictions in the coming weeks, Ruelas hopes people remember how quickly the virus can upend a family.
"I saw a lot of [people] without masks," she told KTLA of seeing people return outside from quarantine. "That terrified me. That virus took my family away."
According to a New York Times database, the United States has seen more than 2 million cases and 113,524 deaths due to coronavirus since it began spreading around the country earlier this year.
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. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.