1 year of COVID: Remembering Denver teen, among the youngest to die of coronavirus


DENVER (KDVR) – It was not supposed to happen to young people. Certainly not to Roxanna Paisano’s smiling, happy 16-year-old daughter. But 315 days ago, Jacqueline Paisano became a heartbreaking statistic.

“They told us she was the youngest person to die of COVID when all of this started,” Paisano told FOX31.

Many Coloradans were stunned by the news last April: Jacqueline, a Denver high school student, was stricken with the virus. Some 48 hours after she was rushed to the hospital, she died. Her death seemed to belie the statistics that showed young people were largely untouched by the virus’s most severe symptoms.

“It’s hard because, you know, she’s not with us anymore. Even though she’s in a better place. We think about her all the time,” Paisano said.

The family’s living room is now a shrine to Jacqueline. An urn on the coffee table holds her ashes. Her black wheel chair – with her name stitched in pink letters – sits in the corner of the living room. Each memento evokes a memory of the girl who fought from the time she was a toddler. Stricken with cancer at 18 months old, she was confined to a wheelchair for most of her life, unable to talk without a communication device. But her smile said everything.

“She was always happy, even though she didn’t talk. She always had a smile for everyone,” Paisano said.

Last spring, we were all still learning a lot about the virus. Paisano says her family was taking the same precautions we all were. But she went to the store once early on in the pandemic, where she believes she was exposed to the virus. And that’s where their nightmare started.

“So I think it was probably me who got the virus first, and then I passed it to her,” Paisano said.

“I put her in bed and she turned blue, kind of blue and purple, and I knew she wasn’t breathing. I took her to the emergency room, and they did a test, and she came out positive.”

Two days later, Jacqueline died from the coronavirus, leaving behind heartbroken friends at Denver’s George Washington High School. And a devastated family.

“We just pray every day to get stronger and be able to move forward,” Paisano said.

Hard to believe about 6,000 Colorado families, and more than a half-million families nationwide, have endured the same sorrow in just one year.

Paisano, who works taking care of children and adults with special needs, just got her second coronavirus vaccination. She knows the dangers of COVID-19 more than most. And she knows the role we all still play in ending this nightmare.

“It’s very sad seeing people not wear their mask,” Paisano said.

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