The tragic New Jersey family that lost five members to the coronavirus, which also sickened 19 of their kin, are now focused on helping to find a cure for the deadly disease by taking part in scientific studies, according to a report.
On March 13, the tight-knit family lost Rita Fusco-Jackson, 56, the second person to succumb to the disease in New Jersey. Within days, her mother, Grace Fusco, 73, and two other offspring – Carmine Fusco, 55, and Vincent Fusco Jr., 53 – also died.
A few weeks later, Grace’s sister died on Staten Island, The New York Times reported.
After a lengthy stint on ventilators, two other siblings remain too weak to return to work.
“This ain’t over,” Joe Fusco, 49, who spent a month on a ventilator and lost 55 pounds in the ordeal, recently told the Times about the pandemic at his home in Freehold, NJ. “This ain’t over in the least bit.”
Fusco, whose sister Maria Reid, 44, spent almost three weeks unconscious, added: “I want to help somebody. I don’t want anyone else to have to lose five family members.”
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are conducting research on the family – studying the DNA of the surviving and deceased members for genetic clues, according to the newspaper.
Elizabeth Fusco, 42, the youngest of 11 children, every Thursday donates convalescent plasma rich with virus-fighting antibodies.
“We know another wave is going to come,” Elizabeth told the Times said. “It’s inevitable. Whatever will help this world is all I care about.”
Her 12-year-old daughter Alexandra, who was born with a serious health condition — congenital diaphragmatic hernia — also contracted the illness.
Elizabeth emerged as a relentless advocate for the stricken family.
“They would tell me to calm down,” she told the paper. “No, I’m not going to calm down. Tell someone who didn’t lose a mom, a sister and two brothers in a matter of less than seven days to calm down.
“Tell me how you’re going to save my brother and sister,” added Elizabeth, whose family held a four-person funeral on April 1 and plan a memorial celebration in August. “I consumed my time with — I’m not going to lose another one.”
In a desperate search for treatment, Elizabeth and other family members pushed doctors to try convalescent plasma, remdesivir and even the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine, which President Trump has touted.
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration on Monday yanked its emergency use authorization for the drug as a treatment for COVID-19 in hospitals.
“I don’t care if you were giving them rat poison — if you told me that that was going to fix them,” Elizabeth, who called Gov. Phil Murphy on his cellphone for help, told the Times, her voice trailing off.
She and her mother’s cousin, Roseann Paradiso Fodera, also lobbied people for access to experimental drugs, and, later, for autopsies that never materialized, the paper reported.
Elizabeth also turned to CentraState Medical Center, the hospital where Grace Fusco and five of her children were treated, for help and support.
“For 44 days, every three to four hours, I was on the phone with them,” Dana Fusco, Joe’s wife, told the paper.
Reid, Joe’s sister, said she can’t afford to dwell on the past. “I’ve got to move on. I’ve got a young daughter,” she said.
For his part, Joe expressed his frustration with people who flout social-distancing measures and avoid wearing face masks.
“These idiots are out there and not taking precautions,” he told the Times. “Not wearing a mask. And not doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re out of their minds.”