For three Tampa siblings, COVID-19 has left them without parents.
Their father, Alfonso Cardenas, passed away on August 2nd, after battling the virus for about six weeks. He died two weeks before turning 56. For the past six years, Cardenas had been the sole parent and support to his children after his wife and the children’s mother, Clara Gomez, passed away from cancer after a 12-year battle with the disease.
Twenty-year-old twin sisters Jhoana and Alejandra and their 14-year-old brother, Ivan, recall how their father did everything for them during the last six years, trying to be both a father and mother for them.
“He made sure my brother, sister, and I had someone to talk to. He would always listen to us,” said Jhoana of her father, who was a native of Colombia. “He did everything in his power— he made sure we were happy and fulfilled all the time.”
Cardenas’ work revolved around helping others; he worked as a family service counselor at a funeral home. He was also a coach at a local soccer club where he coached his twin daughters and son since they were 6 years old.
“When we were growing up he was always very positive. He would say there was a solution to every problem you can find,” said Jhoana.
Cardenas was always the life of parties. “When we would go to family parties and they had music he would always want to dance. When my sister and I would say no, he would start dancing all silly,” she said.
Cardenas began to feel ill the weekend of Father’s Day. A week after he was spending most of the time in bed with chills and asked his daughters to take him to the hospital.
At the hospital, a COVID-19 test was performed and Cardenas was sent home to wait for the results that would take 3 to 5 days. During that time, he continued to worsen. By the beginning of July, Jhoana took her father to Tampa General Hospital and was sent home again.
But three days later he was experiencing shortness of breath at home and could barely get out of bed. Jhoana Cardenas took him back to Tampa General Hospital where he spent the month of July until he passed away on August 2nd.
Since Cardenas’ children couldn’t visit him at the hospital, they Facetimed him twice, but he was intubated and sedated.
“Even if we saw him he could not talk to us,” said Jhoana. “We told him we love him.”
The day Cardenas passed away, they were allowed to visit him.
“The doctor said he was no longer contagious and had tested negative. They let us go into the room to say bye. He had gotten a tracheotomy and had a feeding tube. He looked different because he had not shaven,” she said.
Jhoana says they have no idea how he got infected because he was very cautious. “He barely left the house. He only went to work. We weren’t really sure how he got infected.”
For now, the Cardenas children are relying on extended family and friends for help. They are still living in the house they have grown up in with their paternal uncle.
Jhoana is a student at the University of South Florida while her twin sister attends Hillsborough Community College; their little brother just began high school. One of their best friends started a GoFundMe page to help them with expenses.
The siblings are very close, continuing the example their parents gave them.
“We have always had either breakfast, lunch, or dinner together. We sit together and talk,” said Jhoana. “This part hasn’t changed.”