COVID’s Impact On A Malden Family

Around 12,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

The high numbers can obscure their individual stories and the stories of their families. And some families have been hit particularly hard.

Julio Salado is a 46-year-old personal trainer. He recently became an emergency medical technician, too. Salado lives in Malden with his girlfriend, 51-year-old Liz Porcari.

This past spring, Salado’s father, 75-year old Rafael Salado II, died of COVID. He’d been living at a long-term care facility in Boston. Then in the fall, Porcari fell ill with COVID. Salado then tested positive and developed symptoms. He has recovered but is still caring for Porcari, who’s struggling with complications.

Talking with WBUR’s All Things Considered host Lisa Mullins about this difficult year, Julio Salado recounted going to see his dad in the hospital to say goodbye.

On the left, Rafael Salado II with his son Julio at a Boston nursing home in the past couple years. On the right, Julio Salado with his father in 1975. (Courtesy)

Julio Salado: “I think this is the first time I’m talking about this. It’s not a good feeling to see your parent in that condition. So it was very overwhelming to see, but I knew that it would probably be the last time that I would see him. … I was the one that connected my mother via the phone for her to say goodbye to him. And they were first loves, and I had to listen and watch her tell my father at that time everything that she wanted to say to him. He could not respond, but it was very clear that their hearts were speaking to one another. That’s the best way I can describe it. So, you know, you see on TV the nurses giving access to the family via the phone or iPad. That’s how it was. But I wasn’t a nurse, I was actually the youngest son doing it.”

Lisa Mullins: Your parents were divorced, but they stayed friends through their lives, and as you say, they were first loves. So that was in May. In November, your girlfriend with whom you live, Liz Porcari, was diagnosed as being COVID-positive. She’s been sick for about a month now. Liz, can you tell us how you’re doing?

Liz Porcari: “I’m OK. I have a fever that has gone on since I first got the virus, so that feels very strange. My throat, you can hear it’s not quite great. And chills and fatigue … I was really surprised to test positive … I was kind of shocked to see the letter that said you’ve tested positive.”

Because you had taken the precautions.

Liz Porcari: “Yeah, I felt like we were really serious about it. You know, we were in good shape. And I wouldn’t have said that we would be, like, prime candidates to get sick. And I certainly wouldn’t have expected to stay sick this long. And I’ve been working the entire time, because I’m in retail and it’s the Christmas season, holiday season.”

Julio Salado and his girlfriend, Liz Porcari, have both had COVID-19 in the last month. He recovered, but she is still mostly bedridden with symptoms including fever, cough and extreme fatigue. (Courtesy)

What do you do and how have you still been doing it?

Liz Porcari: “I am the retail director for the (Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston). And I just have been sitting in bed with my laptop and phone.”

We wish you a good recovery, and a whole recovery. Julio, you’re a fitness instructor. Have you been able to continue that at all during this time?

Julio Salado: “When I first tested positive, no, my symptoms were way too overwhelming. I mean, because you would think because it’s a virtual online (class) that you can just maybe sit on the chair and just to tell people (what exercises to do). No, you’re completely zapped. And I couldn’t waste my energy on trying to force myself to do anything physical or coach people.”

You became an emergency medical technician after your father died. That’s a front-line position at a really difficult time. Why did you do it?

Julio Salado: “After seeing my father pass away, I (had been) interested in the industry for many years. And the first thing that came to my mind (was) that I didn’t want to stay home; I wanted to be of help. I wanted to be out there as quickly as possible to try to combat COVID and just be of help. And it just popped in my mind, the shortest course — the course that I can take that can get me out there — was EMT. And it was easier for me to try to help others and go out there than to sit at home.”

“There are people who care for their neighbors, I guess, and it took a pandemic to really bring it out of everybody.”

Julio Salado

So this has been a pretty incredible year for you both. I wonder, looking back, if you have any particular reflections aside from just wanting to get better.

Julio Salado: “I’m somebody, like, who’s community-oriented and believe that we should lean on each other and help each other when we can. And prior to COVID, that seemed more like (just) an idea, because most people were more busy. Looking back, from my own personal experience, it proved to me that there is a lot of good, because when I shared with other people that my father passed away due to COVID, we got an outpouring of support. And then I noticed online and in the community that there was popping up a lot of small organizations, groups, by just regular neighbors and people supporting each other. Early on in the (pandemic) there was some families making masks, and then they left (some) on the porch because we didn’t have any, and I got masks. So looking back, it’s like, there’s a lot of good in the world. That’s, like, my reflection — that there are people who care for their neighbors, I guess, and it took a pandemic to really bring it out of everybody.”