DETROIT (AP) – When Laneeka Barksdale fell so ill with the coronavirus that she had to be hospitalized, she tried to prevent her family from driving her there so as not to endanger them.
The 47-year-old mother of four began to feel ill in early March, initially thinking it was just a cold. A mild cough progressed to a fever that climbed to almost 102 degrees. Then he took her breath away.
âShe didn’t even want my other sister to drive her to the hospital,â recalls her brother Omari Barksdale. “She was in terrible shape and could barely breathe, but she didn’t want anyone else exposed.”
A known figure in Detroit’s bustling social scene and ballroom dance, Laneeka was hospitalized around March 14. She died a little over a week later.
Detroit is emerging as a national hotspot for coronavirus cases. While the city had made some progress towards recovery from the Great Recession and municipal bankruptcy in 2013, it still struggled with chronic poverty when the coronavirus hit.
Hundreds of people have contacted the family to offer their condolences and share memories of Laneeka. Described by the family as a free spirit, videos of her spinning and pulling people onto the dance floors have been shared widely on social media.
With long flowing hair and a smile that could light up a room, some friends have called Laneeka “the queen” of Detroit-style ballroom dancing, which is a soulful dance popular in the African American community.
Laneeka knew all the variations, from basic two-step movements to more sophisticated movements that made her glide elegantly across the floor with a contemporary twist on tango and waltz.
âShe was that shining star in the room,â Barksdale said. “She had an infectious laugh and made people feel good.”
Laneeka, who worked for years in a casino, suffered from severe asthma and the family believe this may have increased the severity of the disease in his lungs.
For Barksdale, the worst part is that his sister died alone.
âShe was on a ventilator and heavily sedated, so for the past few days we haven’t even been able to talk to her,â he said. “No one could see her.”
Laneeka’s family is raising funds for her funeral and to help care for her youngest child, who is 7 years old. Her other children are 17, 25 and 26 years old.
âIt’s hard. It’s really hard to grieve in isolation,â Barksdale said. âWe’re going to have to continue looking after her children, especially the 7-year-old, so we want to prepare and get him a pillow. â
The family want Laneeka to be remembered as more than a person who died of complications from COVID-19.
In a passionate Facebook post hours after his death, Barksdale called on people to take precautions.
“She would like everyone to take this seriously,” Barksdale said with tears in his eyes. “It allows us to tell her story and turn her death into a message to people to hopefully help, as they say, flatten the curve.”