The Current

When this Filipino-Canadian shared news of her husband's COVID-19 plight, the whole world listened

Lester Quives was hit hard with COVID-19, but has been recuperating with the help of his local community, and well wishers from around the world.

Manitoba Filipino community suffered disproportionately with COVID-19: advocate

Lester and Christie-Mae Quives are originally from the Phillipines and now live in Steinbach, Man., where they work in health care. (Christie-Mae Quives/Facebook)

Story Transcript

Nine days after Lester Quives went into a coma and was put on a ventilator with COVID-19, his wife Christie-Mae got the moment she'd been waiting for.

As a nurse held up a video call up to his hospital beside, Lester unexpectedly opened his eyes.

"It was overwhelming. I [kept] shouting 'Oh my love, my love,'" said Christie-Mae, who works in the lab department in the Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach, Man.

"He opened his eyes and I thought to myself, 'Oh my gosh, he's back, he's back," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

But she got another surprise when she posted a quick video online to alert friends and family of the good news — an outpouring of supportive comments on her video, from people around the world. 

"Almost the entire world actually texting you — from U.S., from Asian countries, and everywhere in the world. I was so happy and I'm very thankful until now for their prayers," she said.

When Christie-Mae posted updates about Lester's recovery online, she received positive comments from all over the world. (Christie-Mae Quives/Facebook )

The couple are originally from the Phillipines and live in Steinbach with their two daughters, 11-year-old Chrysshell, and 6-year-old Chloelynn. As COVID-19 cases spiked in the province in the fall — reaching a 40 per cent test positivity rate — the entire family became infected. 

Christie-Mae and the girls experienced mild symptoms, but Lester began to have trouble breathing. When his oxygen levels dropped so low that his fingers turned purple, he was brought to a Winnipeg hospital on Nov. 9, where he was intubated and remained unconscious until he work up on Nov. 18.

Left at home to isolate with the kids, Christie-Mae said the support of her local community, including family, friends and co-workers, got her through.

Lester works as a health-care aide at the hospital and also at a long-term care home. When he returned home on Nov. 23, he was surprised by the messages online. 

"Of course, I'm expecting it from family and friends, from the community as well. But people from other parts of the world who prayed for me, oh my God, that's huge," he said.

Not to be outdone, the local community organized a drive-by parade at the family home, honking to show their support. The event was a surprise, so when Lester rushed outside to wave, he was wearing shorts — in the Manitoba winter.

"I don't feel the coldness because the warmth of welcoming me, the warmth of telling me that, hey, good job, you did it, you did it," he said.

"It's just very overwhelming."

Lester's case 'a reality check': advocate

Steinbach became a COVID-19 hotspot around the time Lester got sick, with health-care workers reporting that they were "overwhelmed" with cases, and Manitoba recording the highest per-capita rates in Canada.

Kris Ontong, a Filipino community advocate in Steinbach, said that Lester's case may have been "a reality check" for his community. 

"Up to that point … we were just hearing it in the news that somebody got sick, and this is what they're going through," said Ontong, a former president of the Southeast Manitoba Filipino Association, who hosts a video podcast called Barangay Canada. 

But Lester is so well known, with so many friends, that people were shocked by how ill he got.

"When that happened, a lot of people, you know, their minds are blown and then it just hit home that this can happen to them as well."

A report from Manitoba's provincial government, released Monday, found that Filipino people experienced the most disproportionate burden due to COVID-19. 

While the group accounts for seven per cent of the province's population, it had 12 per cent of cases. The 2016 census records Steinbach's Filipino population as roughly 1,000 of the city's 15,829 residents, a similar proportion to the wider province.

Overall, BIPOC Manitobans account for 35 per cent of the population, but 51 per cent of COVID-19 cases, the report said. White Manitobans make up 64 per cent of the population, but accounted for 48 per cent of confirmed infections.

Report reveals people of colour in Manitoba are disproportionately affected by COVID-19

CBC News Manitoba

1 month ago
People of colour in Manitoba have seen disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infections, a new report released by the provincial government found. 1:51

Manitoba's Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said that BIPOC communities are more likely to be employed in low-wage and higher-risk occupations where distancing measures are not possible, and to live in multigenerational households with increased risk of transmission.

Ontong said that a large chunk of the Filipino immigrant population work in health care, "and the rest are distributed amongst the different factories and farms and barns." 

Those roles come with greater risk of exposure to the virus, with Ontong noting that "we're all in the same storm, but in different boats."

"What separates us from the others is a unique culture," he said. 

Community adjusted to pandemic: Ontong

Ontong thinks that unique culture has helped with the mental health toll of the pandemic, and has even given the Filipino community what he called "an unfair advantage."

Many members of the community were still living in the Philippines when the SARs outbreak happened in the early 2000s, he explained. While the country only recorded 14 cases, it was surrounded by areas with thousands more.

The Filipino community in Manitoba has seen disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infections, said Kris Ontong, a former president of the Southeast Manitoba Filipino Association. (Supplied by Kris Ontong)

That means some Filipino-Canadians were already familiar with mask-wearing and following other public health orders, Ontong said.

"We didn't have a problem adjusting to all those new health orders that we have to comply with," he said. 

"And as far as the physical disconnection is concerned, well, we're immigrants. We're used to being physically disconnected from our loved ones because we're so far away here in Canada," he added.

That means the community is used to using technology and social media to stay in touch with loved ones at a distance, he said.

He said that organizations like the Southeast Manitoba Filipino Association have also helped to form strong support networks for immigrants. And people who come to Canada often help other friends and family members move to join them as the years go by.

"It's really been a huge factor in supporting people get settled and integrate with the local community," Ontong said.

As they recover from their brush with COVID-19, Lester and Christie-Mae Quives want to spend more time with their daughters Chloelynn, 6, and Chrysshell, 11. (Christie-Mae Quives/Facebook)

For Lester, that support has been crucial as he recuperates and gets back on his feet.

"I have the support from family, from friends, from the community and definitely from my co-workers and even from the management, from the hospital where I worked and in the care home, they're very supportive," he said.

He and Christie-Mae have come out of their COVID experience wanting to spend more time with their girls.

"I realized that we need to have time for the kids, not just work, work, work and work," said Christie-Mae.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Alison Masemann.

Hear full episodes of The Current on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.  

This story is the part of Canada's Road Ahead, The Current's series talking to Canadians about how the pandemic has changed their lives, and what comes next. Read more of those stories below.


Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?