Mom pleads for people to take COVID seriously as her son fights for his life in Regina ICU

Dianne Desjarlais Cardinal prays every day that her son Matthew, 34, is going to pull through as he battles COVID-19. 

She says the virus rapidly transformed him from a healthy man with no conditions to a hospital patient on life-support. 

“I don’t know what his prognosis is like in the long run. All I know is that he has a long road to recovery,” she said. “It’s very heartbreaking for me, and I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody.”

Desjarlais Cardinal says her son’s experience with the COVID-19 mutation, known as the B.1.1.7 variant, is unbelievable yet undeniable. 

He had to call an ambulance because he just could not catch his breath — like he was struggling to breathe. Now, this is a 34-year-old healthy guy.– Dianne Desjarlais Cardinal

She’s relying on a higher power to give him strength, but she’s also grateful for the “angels” who are tending to her son in the ICU at the Regina General Hospital. 

It all began on Mar. 15 when Matthew started to feel unwell.

Desjarlais Cardinal told him to go home from work and he started to isolate until he could get a COVID test. But then he began to have a fever, chills and soreness that kept getting worse. 

“He had to call an ambulance because he just could not catch his breath — like he was struggling to breathe. Now, this is a 34-year-old healthy guy.” 

She says that in the hospital he became so tired that he needed two people to help him into a wheelchair. 

Desjarlais Cardinal said her son’s chest scan seemed to reveal an intense visible effect on his lungs in a short period of time.  (Submitted by Dianne Desjarlais Cardinal)

“Every day he would be calling me and letting me know the symptoms and how he was feeling,” she said. “He was so out of breath, he was tired, very tired.” 

His doctor informed her that in addition to becoming sicker with COVID-19, Matthew had also begun to show signs of pneumonia and had developed a new blood clot. 

The calls became fewer as his condition worsened and soon Matthew was put on a ventilator in the ICU. 

 “I am relying on the strength of God and on the prayers and support of many, many friends and family,” Desjarlais Cardinal said.

She describes her son as a vibrant person full of life, who always lends a helping hand. 

“He wants to be there,” she said. “He wants to help. He wants to do good if someone’s feeling down. He’s so quick-witted. He’s got a good sense of humour, a great sense of humour.” 

Matthew Cardinal was able to speak with his mom during the first few days of his hospital stay, but his condition continued to decline and he is now on a ventilator. (Submitted by Dianne Desjarlais Cardinal)

Desjarlais Cardinal says she connects with the hospital everyday for updates now that her son can’t talk. She says she’s grateful for the compassion of the hospital staff, but also worries for them because “they’re putting themselves at risk, too.”

She also knows her son isn’t the only patient needing care. 

On Monday, the critical care leader for the Regina area told CBC that the Regina General Hospital is operating beyond capacity at about 115 per cent occupancy. 

Desjarlais Cardinal says it’s still not clear how her son, who works as a bartender and waiter in Regina, contracted the virus. There have been several outbreaks at restaurants in recent weeks as variant cases swept through the city, and the government only just shut down indoor dining on Sunday. 

Matthew’s friend circle has started an online fundraiser to help the family on the long road ahead. 

Desjarlais Cardinal says her family’s pain and uncertainty has prompted her to speak up. 

She ticked off two things people can do to help:

  • Mask up.
  • Keep in your own bubble and stay home unless your outing is essential. 

Desjarlais Cardinal has a message for people who deny or downplay COVID-19. 

“I just hope people take things more seriously,” she said. “I want to warn people out there that this is no laughing matter … It’s not just the elderly that that are being affected.”

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