Kim Kotelo spent her first year as a nurse working during the pandemic and it appears to have ended her life.
Kotelo, who had realized her childhood career dream, was found dead in her apartment on April 30. Multiple nasal swabs taken afterward indicated she was positive for COVID-19.
She was 26.
The province reached another milestone Wednesday — 1,000 lives lost to the deadly virus over the past 14 months.
Premier Brian Pallister, NDP Leader Wab Kinew and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont marked the sombre occasion in the legislature.
"Behind each number was a person, a life and a family who touched many others. It has been an extraordinarily difficult year, where restrictions have kept us apart, including in our mourning, Lamont said.
"As we reach this milestone, we are also grateful for the time we had with those who are now gone. Your memory and love will endure."
Kinew noted the intersection of Wednesday's tragic milestone and the fact it happened on the province's 151st birthday. He said he found it "particularly symbolic about us hitting this very challenging milestone on Manitoba Day."
Kotelo worked at Health Sciences Centre in acute care. Even so, her heartbroken mother Eleanor was shocked to learn she had the virus.
"If there was ever a hint of contact with COVID with someone at work she would say she would not see me," her mother said. "She wouldn't put any of us at risk. She washed her hands constantly. She wiped everything down."
Kim called in sick earlier the week she died, her mother said.
"Thursday night I had a dream she was dead and on Friday there was no answer."
She said one of her daughter's colleagues went to check on her and found Kotelo's body. Police and the medical examiner's office were called and nasal swabs were taken.
Kotelo had just graduated with a bachelor of nursing degree from Red River College and had her convocation at the Centennial Concert Hall in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.
She was also at higher-than-normal risk of developing complications with the novel coronavirus because of Type 1 diabetes. Her mother said while some of her colleagues left to work in less-risky settings, her daughter stayed.
"She probably thought she was young; she always said she would fight this herself. She wouldn't want anyone to be exposed to it," Eleanor said, adding Kim put off getting the vaccine because of her diabetes; there wasn't enough available evidence providing assurance there would be no complications that might prevent her from getting pregnant down the road.
"She wanted to have children," her mother said.
Studies around the world have found there is no connection between COVID-19 vaccines and infertility.
Kotelo was a natural at nursing because of her caring nature, Eleanor said.
"Ever since she was young she just had that. Once, when we were in Grand Forks and she was 14, she saw a young boy on the curb say he was hungry. She said, 'We're going to McDonald's to buy some food and I will use some of the shopping money you gave me for it.'
"That was just her."
Kotelo also took Christmas cards to work for patients to send to family and friends and she mailed them at her own expense.
And, during the height of the pandemic's second wave in the fall into winter, when family members couldn't visit loved ones in person, she skipped lunch and dinner at times to sit with patients.
"She said, 'I'm the last one they are going to see before they die," her mother said. "She... didn't want them to die alone."
Kotelo knew weeks ago the third wave of COVID was coming.
Her mother said she read a note her daughter wrote in a notebook saying how tired she was of it.
"They are moving more beds in here, yet there's not enough nurses for them. I don't know where this is going to end," she wrote.
"She was so distraught about it," her mother said.
Besides her mother, Kotelo is survived by her father, Jerry, sister Shannon, her grandmother and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.