Las Cruces sisters lose both parents to COVID-19, days apart

Bethany Brunelle-Raja
Las Cruces Sun-News
Las Cruces residents Maria Burciaga de Manquera, 67, and her husband Jose Manquera, 69, both died of COVID-19 within days of each other after being placed on ventilators.

LAS CRUCES - Two Las Cruces sisters are mourning the loss of both their parents who died 11 days apart after contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Jose Manquera, 69, died Oct. 28 after being placed on a ventilator, and Maria Burciaga de Manquera, 67, died Nov. 7 after being placed on a ventilator due to COVID-19 complications. 

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Jose's son, who lives in Mexico, was placed on a ventilator Tuesday after being sick with COVID-19 for one week. 

Between the two, Jose and Maria left behind five children.

The sweetest people

In an interview with the Sun-News Wednesday, Maritza Serna said her parents were two of the sweetest people who were fun, outgoing and always helpful. 

"If you needed something they'd be right there. If you needed something fixed in your house, my step-dad would go and try to fix it for no cost. They would just go and help everyone they could," she said. 

During their many trips to visit relatives in Mexico, Maria always brought clothing for those in need. She liked to cook for friends, family and neighbors. 

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One thing the couple enjoyed doing was attending the festivals in Old Mesilla, where they made many friends and loved to dance. The two just loved to dance, Serna said. 

"You put on music and they'd just start dancing," Serna said. "My mom, in her family, is described as the woman of the party. If it's boring or something, she'd turn on the music and just start dancing. And if she sees you just sitting there, she's like, 'Come on.'"

Though Jose was shy, Serna said he was always by Maria's side and was there for her if she needed anything. 

"I think we came to realize he was probably the one that was like, 'You need to come with me. I'm not going to leave you on Earth by yourself,'" Serna said. 

Married at Carl's Jr.

Maria and Jose, who were married for about 12 years, got married after they ran into a judge who happened to be dining near them at Carl's Jr.

Serna's sister, Araceli Moriel, said that one day Jose and Maria were running errands and stopped for lunch at Carl's Jr. While there, Jose noticed some men wearing suits and overheard one of the men mention that he worked at the courthouse.

"He's like, 'Are you a judge? Can you marry us?'" she said. 

The man, indeed, was a judge, and he agreed to marry Jose and Maria on the spot; he even had the proper paperwork in his briefcase. After signing the certificate, the judge told the newlyweds they'd need to have witnesses sign it before turning it in to the county. 

"I was at work. They come over to my work and they (called) and said, we're coming over to your work, can you step out for a minute, and I was like, 'Sure," Moriel said. 

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When Jose and Maria arrived, they handed her the certificate to sign. She asked what it was that she was signing, and the newlyweds told her that they'd just gotten married at Carl's Jr. 

"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I was surprised, shocked," she said. 

For the second witness, the couple went and asked one of her aunts to sign the certificate, Moriel said — and then went to the mall to buy wedding rings.

Jose and Maria had been dating for one month before their wedding at Carl's Jr. 

Serna said what's even funnier about the location of their wedding is that she didn't even know they liked Carl's Jr. 

"All these years that they were together, I have never seen them go to Carl's Jr. Ever. At home, they never had Carl's Jr. bags or nothing. Never," Serna said. 

Jose and Maria were married for just over a decade before they both died of COVID-19. 

"That tells you what a blessing that marriage was," Moriel said. "Because who carries that certificate?"

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'He wasn't going to leave her on Earth alone'

In the first week of October, Jose started getting sick. He had diarrhea, was vomiting and had a fever. He lost his sense of taste, so Maria isolated Jose in his room. 

"Then on the 15th of October is when he first went in. That's when they tested him and told him he was positive," Serna said. "He stayed the night there that night and he got out the 16th. So they let him go; they gave him an inhaler and I don't know what else," she said. 

On Saturday, Oct. 17, he started having such severe breathing problems that his body would shake, Serna said. So Maria called an ambulance and Jose was transported to MountainView Regional Medical Center and was admitted. 

"My mom, at that time, she felt OK. She didn't really have any symptoms. She still had her taste, she still had her smell. She got a little bit of fever, but she thought it was probably (from) worrying and stressing a little bit," she said. 

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After Jose was admitted to the hospital, Serna said she'd text her mom every morning to check on her. Most mornings, Maria said she was fine. But then, on Oct. 20, Maria told her daughter that she needed to go to the hospital. 

"She told me, 'I think I'm going to have to go to the hospital,' and I was like, 'What's wrong?' She told me that her body was very aching and she tried to go to the hospital but she said she couldn't even drive," Serna said. 

So Serna took off from work and went to her mom's house to wait for the ambulance to arrive. 

"She looked OK, but they had to put her on oxygen. They were both on oxygen. And then my step-dad got put on the ventilator the 24th and my mom got put on the ventilator the day my step-dad passed, which was the 28th," she said. 

Prior to being intubated, Jose was placed on a BiPAP mask. Serna said Jose could still hear and talk while wearing the mask, but speaking was difficult because he was so out of breath. 

The last time Maria talked to Jose was right before they intubated him. That conversation scared her because she couldn't understand what Jose was saying. 

"He went on the ventilator and, eventually, one of his lungs was collapsing a little bit," Serna said. "After that, it just started targeting every organ. There was no hope at all because it was attacking his whole body." 

So Serna, along with her brothers and sisters, decided to let him go.

"The day that he passed is when my mom got put on the ventilator. She didn't know he passed because they actually put her on the ventilator like an hour before he passed. We got to talk to her before they put her on the ventilator," Serna said. 

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It was awful, Serna said, because they didn't have the chance to tell Maria that Jose had passed away. 

After being placed on the ventilator, Serna said the virus began attacking Maria's other organs as it had attacked her husband's organs. Serna said when patients are on the ventilator, they try to lower the oxygen more and more so that the patient can start breathing on their own again. But with her mother, they'd just have to boost it up all the way again.

"Not even a little bit, but all the way up and it was scarring her lungs," she said. 

Doctors told Serna and her siblings that if Maria were to survive, they'd have to give her a tracheotomy. Even then, she'd have a low chance of survival because of how badly COVID-19 had damaged her lungs and other organs. 

So they decided to let her go. 

Las Cruces residents Maria Burciaga de Manquera, 67, and her husband Jose Manquera, 69, both died of COVID-19 within days of each other after being placed on ventilators.

"When she passed away, she wasn't positive anymore. They were like, 'She's not contagious anymore.' So we were like, 'Wow. So it just messed up everything in her and just from everything that it damaged she can't even survive — even though she's not even positive anymore,'" she said. 

Before medical professionals disconnected Maria from the ventilator, her children were able to FaceTime her. They told her it was OK to go and that Jose was waiting for her, she said. 

A sad, hurtful and scary disease

Losing both of their parents has been difficult for Moriel and Serna.

"It's upsetting seeing people still being irresponsible out there and just not following the safety guidelines," Moriel said.

COVID-19 is real, Moriel said. 

"We've lived it and it's a scary thing," she said. "Like my husband, now he's gotten tested — because at his work people have gotten positive results and they come sick. Luckily he's been negative all this time, but it is real. We saw our mom struggle for air, even though she had the oxygen already on. She was still going through the pain like somebody was sitting on top of her." 

Moriel said COVID-19 is a very, "sad, hurtful and scary disease and people really need to follow the safety rules and stay at home. I wish I could have more birthdays and Thanksgivings to celebrate with them." 

"It's very ugly to go through," Serna said. 

Bethany Freudenthal can be reached at, 575-541-5449 or @bethanyfreuden1 on Twitter.