When Patricia Frieson texted her brother last week that she was going to the hospital with difficultly breathing, she didn’t seem overly worried.
Frieson, a retired nurse, had struggled with health problems for years and required the use of a walker to get around when she left her home on Chicago's South Side. As a child, she suffered from double pneumonia and continued to struggle with respiratory issues, said her brother, Richard Frieson.
But as she started to show symptoms of the coronavirus and her condition deteriorated, a test confirmed the worst-case scenario; Frieson, 61, was diagnosed with COVID-19 and died Monday at the University of Chicago Medical Center, becoming the state’s first fatality connected to the pandemic.
Though state health officials said Tuesday that Frieson “had known contact with another coronavirus patient,” her relatives don’t know how she contracted COVID-19, according to her brother.
“She doesn’t have high mobility, so however she got it, it was brought to her,” Richard Frieson said. “The only thing she gets out for is funerals. She got out for a funeral a couple weeks ago. She doesn’t really get out of the house much other than to go to church.”
While the family grieves her death, some relatives have unsuccessfully been trying to get tested. Two sisters, one of whom has been hospitalized with respiratory problems, have asked for tests but are still waiting, Richard Frieson said. Another brother was tested and is in self-quarantine until the results come back.
“We just need testing. The biggest issue is that there is just no testing going on,” said Richard Frieson, 54, who lives in Minneapolis. “No one knows for sure what’s going on and people are walking around with a cough and ... it’s just ridiculous. It’s ridiculous that you can’t get a test.”
Breaking down into sobs, Richard Frieson described his older sister, one of nine siblings, as “an amazingly loving person” and “one of the sweetest people you ever want to meet.”
From a young age, Patricia Frieson followed her instinct to care for others, Richard said. When the grandmother that raised her in Arkansas developed Alzheimer’s disease, she remained by her side until the end. And though she went to nursing school to continue her passion, Patricia Frieson’s own health problems stopped her from working after she returned home to Chicago.
“She cared for everybody but herself,” Richard said. “She liked taking care of people.”
Though she had difficulty venturing out, she loved to attend her Baptist church, where she enjoyed belting out solos in deep alto tones and didn’t shy away from the spotlight. She also loved doting on her nieces and nephews, her brother said.
Frieson’s cause of death has not yet been determined by the Cook County medical examiner’s office. The office was planning to conduct a review of the case Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman.
In Illinois, a total of 160 cases have been identified across 15 counties as of Tuesday.
Richard Frieson urged others to take the threat of coronavirus seriously, even if they haven’t so far.
“To learn that she was the first person in the whole state ... to pass away from it, that’s heartbreaking," he said.