An 86-year-old resident of Aperion Care Forest Park, 8200 Roosevelt Rd. in Forest Park, could be the village’s first confirmed COVID-19 death.
Relatives of Alberto Castro said that, while he was originally from Melrose Park, Castro had been living at Aperion for the last few years. A representative with Aperion could not be reached on Sunday afternoon to confirm the death, but Claudia Castro, Alberto’s daughter, said that her father was rushed to Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park late last month. He died at the hospital on March 30.
“He was tested on March 26, and the results came back that day,” Claudia said in an interview on April 4. “He started improving on Friday and Saturday, so we had some hope that he would recover. Sunday, things started to go downhill.”
Claudia said her father had dementia. He also had diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, which reported Alberto’s cause of death. The office’s daily ledger does not list where he last resided and a representative with the medical examiner’s office could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins said that Aperion had not confirmed the death with the village, but added that it’s generally been difficult trying to get information on COVID-19 cases from area nursing homes, which are particularly susceptible to the disease, according to public health experts.
Hoskins added that he’s unaware of any other COVID-19 deaths in Forest Park.
“We did have a dead-on-arrival at a home not long ago, where neighbors suspected it might have been a COVID-19 case, but that hasn’t been confirmed by the medical examiner’s office,” Hoskins said, adding that the police department did not confirm that the death was related to COVID-19 either.
Alberto, who had migrated from Mexico, worked at the old Zenith TV factory in Melrose Park before starting his own landscaping business, said Claudia, an attorney.
Jose Alberto, Alberto’s son and primary caretaker, told the Chicago Tribune that his father “was a good man.”
In another era, the hardworking family man would have died surrounded by his loved ones. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, the burden and blessing of saying goodbye fell on the shoulders of Jose and his brother.
“We weren’t able to visit him,” said Claudia. “That’s the message I want people to know. People are unable to visit. We were unable to say goodbye. They’re essentially dying alone, especially the older generations, which is sad. And we can’t have a service until May. It’s just so sad, because you’re kind of in limbo with this.”
Days later, on April 3, Ofelia Ramirez De Villagomez, 89, of Melrose Park, died of complications from COVID-19. Castro said that De Villagomez was her aunt’s mother-in-law. Four other people in De Villagomez’s household, including her 89-year-old husband, contracted COVID-19 and survived.
“The whole house got infected,” said De Villagomez’s granddaughter, Laura Lopez. “Unfortunately, [Ofelia] was the only one who didn’t make it. My grandfather and aunt are at home with oxygen. My cousin and her husband are at home recovering.”
Lopez said her aunt is in her 60s while her cousin and her husband are in their 30s. The story of Castro and De Villagomez shows COVID-19’s impact across generations and locations, and how the virus is altering even how we mourn.
As of April 3, there were a total of 2,331 confirmed COVID-19 cases in suburban Cook County and 73 deaths, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health.
“It’s scary,” Lopez said. “It’s just a very scary process knowing that this has hit this close to home. It’s not something we’re seeing on the news. My family is taking this really hard. We can’t have a normal funeral for my grandmother, so it’s even harder for the people who didn’t get to see her. It’s just really hard.”
Lopez said De Villagomez, who had five children and nine grandchildren, wished to be cremated. But because she tested COVID-19 positive, the family can’t have a service, Lopez said, adding that they they’ll plan a gathering at her grandmother’s home once “things kind of calm down.”
In the meantime, Lopez had some words of caution for other community members.
“Take this seriously,” she said. “Wash your hands and stay home. Don’t go out.”