PALMDALE, Calif. - A 19-year-old from Palmdale is raising his young siblings after his mother passed away from COVID-19 in August.
Juan Jose Martinez, 19, contracted the virus in August along with his five young siblings and his 43-year-old mother Brenda Lopez. Martinez said his mother was fine at the beginning with a cough.
"Within a couple of days, the symptoms worsened. She started feeling shortness of breath so one morning, we just took action and we called 911," said Martinez.
Martinez said his mother had diabetes, and took the virus seriously by social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing her hands, but still succumbed to the virus after her lungs collapsed and her kidney failed.
"I feel like she's [Lopez] at peace and she put up a fight, honestly. I was just a big brother and then after my mother passed, I became a father, mother and a big brother at the same time," said Martinez.
Martinez has five younger siblings ages 2, 7, 8, 9 and 15. However, the 2-year-old brother is now living with his father after the child's father was granted custody in September.
Martinez said he is doing his best to pay bills and make sure his siblings make all of their routine appointments.
"I'm making sure they're good health-wise, and making sure they're up to date with doctor's appointments, dentists and stuff like that," he said.
He applied for welfare after having to quit his job as a security guard to care for his siblings full-time.
"At first, it was pretty emotional. There was a lot of screaming and crying but I managed to calm them down and told them everything was going to be fine and I wasn't going to let anything happen to them," said Martinez.
His siblings have noticed the sacrifices.
"I love how supportive he is and is just doing the best that he can for all of us at the moment. I just love the fact that I can turn around and I can talk to him, just like I would with my mom. It's been really hard. It's different from a woman and a guy to talk to without having my mom to talk to, but at the end of the day, at least I still have an older brother to look up to," said Jovanna, who is 15 years old.
"He's great and he's a big brother to us. He loves us and he takes care of us," said 9-year-old Nereyda.
"What I love the most about my brother is that he takes very good care of us. He cooks for us and he's a really good brother," said 8-year-old Valentin.
"He washes our clothes. He feeds us every day. He cares about us. He takes care of us every day, because our mom is not here," said 7-year-old Ramiro.
Martinez described his mom as a "happy person."
"She loved to help people and she just enjoyed being around people. I miss her voice honestly. I miss her text messages and her telling me that she loves me," said Martinez.
Martinez has an uncle in the Valley who has helped support him and make decisions for the young children. He also has a grandfather who lives near the Fresno area.
Martinez has become a full-time parent and wants to warn others who might think COVID-19 is not real.
"I know there are people out there that think COVID is not real and I just want them to know that it really is, because it impacted my family and I'd hate for another family to go through what we went through," said Martinez.
A GoFundMe page has been launched to help the grieving family. You can click here for more information.