Silatik Qavvik poses in this undated handout photo. Qavvik, 34, died from complications caused by COVID-19 on Jan. 2, 2021, after spending one month on a ventilator in a Winnipeg hospital. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO — Johnnie Cookie

‘Would kiss our cheeks:’ Nunavut woman dies of COVID after giving birth in Winnipeg

IQALUIT — A Nunavut woman’s family gathered on Facetime, nearly 1,400 kilometres away, as a ventilator that kept her alive for over a month was removed.

Silatik Qavvik, who died shortly after she was taken off the machine on Saturday, was diagnosed with COVID-19 after giving birth in a Winnipeg hospital in November.

Her family said she contracted the virus while in Winnipeg, and was separated from her newborn daughter, Lisi, shortly after she was born.

Qavvik was 35.

Johnnie Cookie, Qavvik’s father and mayor of Sanikiluaq, an island community in Hudson Bay, says the baby was delivered via caesarian section. With only one hospital in Iqaluit to serve Nunavut’s 25 communities, residents in the territory routinely travel south for medical care.

Both the baby and Qavvik’s husband also tested positive for COVID-19 while in Winnipeg, Cookie said, but they have since recovered. Qavvik also has four other children.

On Nov. 26, after she was diagnosed with COVID-19, Qavvik posted on Facebook asking for prayers.

“People are not taking this seriously. They think COVID is funny. Look where I am now. I am at NICU. This isn’t funny at all. I am so scared,” she wrote.

“Listen carefully if you need to do a lockdown, do not visit, wash your hands, social distance. I beg you to do this. I am trying to save lives.”

In early December, she was put on a ventilator and moved to the intensive care unit at Saint Boniface Hospital.

After conversations with doctors, Cookie said a family member travelled to Winnipeg and gave directions for them to remove the ventilator.

“It was very difficult, being very far from Winnipeg,” he said.

A doctor told him that although his daughter didn’t have COVID-19 when she died, the virus had weakened her liver and kidneys, he added.

Nunavut’s first case of COVID-19 was reported in Sanikiluaq on Nov. 6 and a second person in the community was diagnosed shortly after.

As mayor, Cookie said it was difficult to hear of his daughter’s diagnosis, especially in the middle of an outbreak in his community.

“This really hurt me. It was very difficult, being a mayor, and having one of my family members being affected by COVID,” he said.

Cookie said his daughter “always wanted to help people.”

“Right to the end of her life, she has always been supporting us. She would always ask if we wanted help,” Cookie said.

“She would kiss our cheeks. That’s how she was.”

He described her as a kind person who cared about her community. And as a little girl, she liked to travel by ATV out to the family’s cabin.

“She was always happy. She enjoyed being out on the land,” Cookie said.

He said the trail he and his family take to that cabin is now named after her.

“We’re going to miss her. Like any parent who loses their child, it’s really difficult. Me and my wife, when we’re alone, thinking about her, we get really emotional,” Cookie said through tears.

He urged Nunavummiut to follow public-health orders and to be careful when it comes to COVID-19.

“I don’t want anyone to experience what we’ve been experiencing.”

As of Monday afternoon, a GoFundMe page had raised just over $2,000 for Qavvik’s husband and children.

After nearly a month in Winnipeg, Qavvik’s baby girl arrived home in Sanikiluaq on Sunday. Cookie said she’s doing well.

“We were at the airport terminal and we were the first ones to handle the baby,” Cookie said.

“She was so beautiful, like her mother.”

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