She survived wars in El Salvador, became a U.S. citizen and is now battling coronavirus

Nora Escalante celebrates becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen on March 26, 2019

For relatives of Nora Escalante, the last few days have been difficult. The Salvadoran immigrant was admitted to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center with symptoms of coronavirus and is struggling to survive.

Now no one can be with her.

“She went through wars, raised her children — she is a strong woman, we have faith that she will recover,” said her daughter Noemí Ayala, breathing deeply. Escalante has been hospitalized since March 19.

Escalante, 58, is originally from Cabañas, El Salvador. In the mid-1980s, while machine guns and rifles thundered, she immigrated to the United States. She settled in Los Angeles, and most of her life has been devoted to sewing.


“She designs, cuts and does everything,” her daughter said.

Throughout the past 10 years, Escalante frequently visited a doctor for problems with her tonsils. When she developed tonsil pain two weeks ago, her oldest son took her in. She was prescribed antibiotics and sent home on March 13. But the problem persisted.

The next day, her son took her back to the doctor. She had a high fever. She was given two injections and given acetaminophen, which is used to manage pain and fever.

Later, Ayala called her mother to find out how she was doing. “Here with a little fever still,” she replied.


Due to work and distance, mother and daughter have been unable to see each other. Ayala lives in Pomona and her mother in South Los Angeles.

“She took care of herself well,” said Ayala, 38, who was also born in El Salvador. “She exercised, ate well. She would get up at 5 in the morning to get ready and put on makeup.”

On Thursday, Escalante celebrated her one-year anniversary of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. That same day marked a week since Ayala had last spoken with her mother.

“I love you very much,” Escalante told her daughter a few hours after she entered the hospital, while leaving her as the only person authorized to make medical decisions on her behalf.


Ayala, a nurse’s assistant, remembers thinking it was strange for her mother to have tonsil pain and fever for three days in a row. She became more suspicious when on March 15, Escalante received a call from a hospital where her boss was being treated.

Her boss had tested positive for coronavirus and had given Escalante’s name as someone with whom she had had contact in recent days.

The next morning, Ayala said, her mother woke up with a high fever. They took her to the hospital, but doctors did not test her for the coronavirus or admit her. They told her to isolate at home for two weeks.

Meanwhile, her symptoms began to worsen. By March 17, her blood pressure increased. Two days later, a family member went to visit Escalante and found her with breathing problems.


“We called the paramedics. They are going to take her to the hospital,” Ayala’s brother wrote to her.

The way the family sees it, four critical days were lost. Ayala regrets that she was originally unable to accompany her mother to the hospital to have insisted that she be admitted that day.

“She had fevers that were uncontrolled, more than 102 degrees,” she said.

Ayala has been calling the hospital two or three times a day to ask about her mother’s condition. Escalante is currently connected to a ventilator. At first she depended completely on the ventilator to breathe, then only about 40%. However, two days ago doctors said her lungs were getting worse.


Before entering the hospital, Escalante told her daughter: “If I die, I want to be taken to El Salvador.”

Escalante has a house in Sensuntepeque, Cabañas, the last place she lived before immigrating to Los Angeles. Her grandmother is also buried there.

The family has not lost faith in her recovery. But the most painful thing is that no one can be with her in the hospital.

“We can’t see her, touch her, talk to her,” Ayala said, her voice cracking.


Escalante’s son and partner, the two people who had the most contact with her, are in isolation.

Relatives have joined in prayer and others have called to find out how Escalante is doing. As for funeral matters, they have not made any plans and aren’t sure if they will be able to carry out Escalante’s last wishes.

“If she can be cremated, we will cremate her and take her there to be with my great-grandmother,” Ayala said.

But for now, she said, “We are in the hands of God and the doctors.”