Pregnant mother of five, widowed by COVID-19, wants Quebec to see what long-term care work cost her family

Two separate fundraising campaigns were launched for Amoti Furaha Lusi and her family, but all the money in the world won't bring her husband back. Now she wants Quebec to know what being an essential worker has cost her.

Amoti Furaha Lusi is grateful for the $115K raised so far to help her family

Amoti Furaha Lusi lost her 50-year-old husband, Désiré Buna Ivara, to COVID-19 last month after she brought the virus home from the CHSLD where she works. Now her union and the community at large are rallying to help her. (Charles Contant/CBC)

As Amoti Furaha Lusi faces a future raising her five, soon-to-be six children in Canada without her late husband by her side, people touched by her story are rallying around her — donating more than $115,000 as of Wednesday to help support Furaha Lusi and her growing family.

"God is touching the hearts of people we don't even know," said Furaha Lusi, sadness etched on her face, her three teenagers by her side.

Furaha Lusi is due to give birth in December. She had been happy, building a life in Canada with her husband, Désiré Buna Ivara, who emigrated from Congo to Canada in 2004. Together, they were raising their children, aged two to 19, in Deux-Montagnes, 40 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

Ivara died last month. He had been finishing his thesis for his doctoral studies in health and society at the Université du Québec à Montréal, helping his children keep up with their schoolwork while Furaha Lusi worked at a West Island CHLSD to help pay the bills.

And while Furaha Lusi's 15-year-old daughter Jeanne is grateful for the community's outpouring of support in recent weeks, nothing will bring her father back.

"My dad and my mother, they're our foundation," Jeanne said. Her mother, she says "was always strong for us, but now, in this moment, she really feels down on herself. But all we can do is help her out with the house and the kids, so that she doesn't have to worry about anything."

Furaha Lusi feels down on herself, in part, because it was her job at the Centre d'hébergement Foyer Dorval that brought the novel coronavirus into her home.

Désiré Buna Ivara, left, died of COVID-19 last month. He is seen here with his wife, Amoti Furaha Lusi, and three of their five children. (Amoti Furaha Lusi)

She first heard that a fellow patient care attendant was showing symptoms of COVID-19 in March and went to her manager, concerned about the risks the virus posed to her and her family. 

She says her concerns were brushed aside, even though at that point in the pandemic, the province had a shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment, and staff had to resort to folding up paper towels to make their own makeshift masks, at one point.

Sure enough, Furaha Lusi became infected, and before long, all five of her children and her husband tested positive, too.

After he began having difficulties breathing and spiking a high fever, Ivara was transferred to the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal and put in an induced coma. He died on May 20.

Fundraisers launched online

When Vanessa Clarke heard the heartbreaking story, she couldn't help but relate: she is also pregnant.

"Seeing this woman in distress, and especially with her five kids from two to nineteen, I was like, 'Oh my God, that must be horrible,'" said the Montrealer.

Clarke launched an online fundraiser last week that has raised more than $6,000 in seven days.

Furaha Lusi's union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), also rallied to the cause.

Stephen Brown, a union representative, said CUPE found out about Ivara's death the day after it happened, and the first thing union members wanted to do was see how they could help the family, offering any support they may need.

Stephen Brown, a representative of Amoti Furaha Lusi's union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said CUPE is looking for ways to help the grieving family in the long term. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Brown said the CUPE campaign has raised about $109,000, so far.

The union is now looking into the circumstances that led up to the man's death and trying to find ways to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Union looking for long-term support

Brown said legal experts are searching for ways to ensure the family has long-term support beyond funds raised online.

Though CUPE has surpassed its goal, the union is still welcoming donations through an online fundraising page this week. All of the funds are going to the family, and Furaha Lusi can use it as she sees fit to support her children, said Brown.

Amoti Furaha Lusi's older children have been helping to look after the house and take care of their younger siblings since their father died. (Charles Contant/CBC)

"Despite the risk to herself and her family, she woke up every morning and went to work to take care of the most vulnerable people in our society," said Brown. "That is commendable. That is true courage."

But for Furaha Lusi, all the money in the world isn't going to turn back the clock.

She said she wants everyone in Quebec to know this is what has happened to so-called guardian angels like her who continued to work despite the risks — risks that she tried to mitigate when she told her manager about her concerns.

"We suffer so much, just because of a small lack of listening to people and negligence which cost the life of my husband," she said. 

"That's what shocked me."

Based on reporting by CBC's Jaela Bernstien

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