A grieving father who will bury his daughter this week is urging people to get vaccinated, warning that COVID-19 is a merciless disease.
Juliana Charlene Nieuwenhuis, who was unvaccinated, was intubated in the intensive care unit of Royal Jubilee Hospital on Aug. 29. It was her 29th birthday. She died two weeks later on Sept. 13.
“You might not be able to comprehend the pain and suffering we as a family are going through, but you can take steps with a vaccination to make sure the chances of this happening to you or your family are dramatically reduced,” said her father, Bill Nieuwenhuis.
Juliana, a James Bay photographer and florist, was immuno-compromised after a kidney transplant in her teens, and chose not to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for fear of possible side-effects.
“She was in great health before her ongoing battle with COVID‑19 and she felt that a vaccination could do more harm, considering some [adverse events] people have had when vaccinated,” said Bill Nieuwenhuis. (The province reports a rate of 3.2 “serious adverse events” per 100,000 doses, based on 7.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in B.C.)
Her father said Juliana was careful about COVID. She quit her job as a florist in March 2020 to reduce her risk, but she heard differing opinions from doctors on vaccination because of the drugs she took to support her kidney, and was deeply affected by the experience of a friend “who almost died from the vaccine,” her father said.
Last week, the province began offering a third vaccine dose to the most seriously immune-compromised people, those defined as clinically extremely vulnerable — a category Juliana would likely have fallen into.
Bill Nieuwenhuis is double-vaccinated, but was also not convinced about how deadly the virus could be for an otherwise healthy individual, especially with relatively lower COVID-19 numbers on Vancouver Island.
“I have had my own doubts on the severity of COVID-19 as a healthy person and just thought if I somewhat did the proper protocols of sanitizing, wearing a mask only when mandatory and vaccination to ward off COVID-19, all would be fine,” he said.
Until now, Nieuwenhuis didn’t know of any family, friends or work contacts who had had COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
“This has now changed dramatically, as I see firsthand the damage this virus can cause and the uncertainty among the doctors and nurses of how the virus reacts in all of us,” he said.
On Wednesday, there were 636 active COVID cases in the Island Health region, and 35 were in hospital, including 20 in the intensive-care unit.
Her father said Juliana started experiencing flu-like symptoms that developed into pneumonia, then acute respiratory distress and compromised organs.
“The only option was to sedate, intubate and place her on a ventilator,” said Nieuwenhuis, who talked of the soul-aching experience of being a parent watching his child deteriorate and not being able to help or hold her.
Early in her hospital stay, Juliana and her father discussed news that the Pfizer vaccine, initially given emergency use authorization, had just received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Juliana said “she would make sure it was added to her things to do when she was better,” her father said. She never got the chance.
Her family prayed she would pull through, but in the end, the virus won out.
“I hope this experience that my daughter and our family are going through can be relayed to others who are undecided on a vaccination,” said Nieuwenhuis.
Juliana was a gentle soul who saw goodness in all God’s creatures, said her family. “Through her eyes, the flowers were brighter and the sky bluer.”
As a photographer she captured beauty all around her, as a florist she spread joy through her creative arrangements, and as a human being, she made a point of saying something positive about all those she knew, her family said.
A private, limited-occupancy service is being held for Juliana. Those attending have been asked to wear something bright in her honour.