Elvia Ramirez Dies at 17; Youngest Covid-19 Victim in North Dakota

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

When she died of Covid-19 on Oct. 6, Elvia Ramirez was only 17 and had started her senior year at Parshall High School on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Elvia intended to marry her long-term boyfriend and had hopes of attending college. She had promised to take some of her younger siblings to Disneyland one day.

Instead, she became the youngest person in the state to die of the virus so far.

According to her mother, Susan Three Irons, Elvia started to experience headaches in mid-September and had stayed home from school. Her boyfriend had the same symptom, so Ms. Three Irons suggested they go to a drive-through clinic in Parshall. Both tested positive for Covid, and soon Elvia had a fever. (Her boyfriend recovered.)

On Sept. 22, when her daughter began to have difficulty breathing, Ms. Three Irons called an ambulance. Elvia was taken to a hospital in nearby Minot, but the facility was ill equipped to handle serious Covid cases.

The hospital was so short-staffed that Ms. Three Irons had to take on much of her daughter’s care. Eventually, the staff insisted she could no longer be in the room. She called Elvia on the phone. “I told her I loved her,” Ms. Three Irons said in an interview, “and she told me she was scared.”

As her daughter’s condition worsened, Ms. Three Irons arranged to have Elvia airlifted to Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo, 270 miles away. By the time Elvia arrived, her condition had deteriorated further, and her breathing grew more labored. She was intubated and placed on a ventilator. She never woke up and was never able to speak to her mother again.

Ms. Three Irons began to experience symptoms herself and tested positive for the virus in another hospital in Fargo, where she was admitted to the Covid wing. On Oct. 6, Elvia’s nurse arranged a video call so Ms. Three Irons could see her daughter. At some point during the call, the camera was turned toward the floor, and because there was no audio, Ms. Three Irons didn’t know that her daughter had gone into cardiac arrest and that the doctors were performing CPR to try to save her. After she died, the doctor held the phone to Elvia’s ear so her mother, weeping, could say goodbye.

Elvia Rose Ramirez was born on Feb. 3, 2003, in Grand Forks, N.D., the third oldest of nine children. Her family was part of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation. Her father, Elias Ramirez, grew up as a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Phoenix, and Elvia, who was extremely proud of her heritage, became a member of that tribe. She suffered from asthma and high blood pressure but was a vivacious, active teenager who loved drawing anime characters and had dreams of becoming an artist and a “cat mom.”

Always a curious, empathetic child, she helped raise her younger siblings, her mother said.

“She always thought of everybody else first,” Ms. Three Irons said. “She was always there to cheer up her friends and volunteer to help out when people needed her.”

Mark Fox, the M.H.A. Nation’s chairman, told Forum News Service that the community was stunned to lose someone so young to the virus.

“It’s not just a few elderly people in the late stages of their life that are dying here,” Mr. Fox said. “It is impacting our young, and that means everybody that age or my age or to the oldest member we have, is at some sort of risk from this virus, and we need to take that seriously.”

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