PARSHALL, N.D. — Seventeen-year-old Elvia "Rose" Ramirez wanted to be two things when she grew up: an artist and a cat mom.

After completing her senior year at Parshall High School on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in the spring of 2021, she planned to marry her boyfriend of four years and possibly go to college.

But COVID-19 cut Ramirez's life short.

She died on Tuesday, Oct. 6, at Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo. She is the youngest person to die from COVID-19 so far in North Dakota.

As one of nine children, Ramirez loved to help her siblings and other people, said Susan Three Irons, Ramirez's mother.

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"If any of her friends were having problems, Elvia would always be there for them," said Three Irons, an enrolled citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation. "Just to be a sounding board and just for them to have someone to talk to."

Elvia "Rose" Ramirez (back center) died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, Oct. 6. The 17-year-old is the youngest person to die from COVID-19 so far in North Dakota. Special to The Forum
Elvia "Rose" Ramirez (back center) died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, Oct. 6. The 17-year-old is the youngest person to die from COVID-19 so far in North Dakota. Special to The Forum

Around Sept. 16, Three Irons said her daughter started to experience headaches, so she recommended Ramirez get tested at a drive-thru testing event in Parshall. Ramirez and her boyfriend tested positive for COVID-19, and a couple of days later Ramirez started to feel ill and thought it might have been due to something she ate.

But by Sept. 22, she was having trouble breathing and Three Irons called an ambulance that took her daughter to Trinity Hospital in Minot, N.D. Three Irons said the hospital was not prepared to take care of her daughter who was displaying increasingly worse COVID-19 symptoms. She said they did not have her on a heart rate monitor and had her only on an IV and supplemental oxygen.

Ramirez by this time had trouble getting up and going to the bathroom, and Three Irons said the hospital was short-staffed on nurses, so she was the one who had to help her daughter from the bed to the bathroom. By that time hospital staff was trying to limit the face-to-face interactions between Three Irons and her daughter so the virus would not spread.

Three Irons eventually made a call to get her daughter airlifted to the Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo as she saw her condition only worsen. Ramirez was on a ventilator the whole time she was at the children's hospital, and she never came off of it.

Three Irons ended up contracting COVID-19 while visiting her daughter in the hospital. The mother's symptoms became so bad that she had to be hospitalized at a different Fargo hospital, where she remained Thursday, Oct. 8.

The 17-year-old ultimately died due to heart complications, though her mother was not able to be at her side.

Elvia "Rose" Ramirez
Elvia "Rose" Ramirez

As doctors tried to revive Ramirez, health care workers in the room called Three Irons on the phone and told her what was happening. Once doctors declared Ramirez's time of death, they let Three Irons say goodbye to her daughter over the phone.

Like many North Dakotans who have died from COVID-19, Ramirez had underlying health conditions, which in her case were asthma and high blood pressure.

MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox said Ramirez's death has sent a shockwave through the community and many people are stunned and expressing sympathy and sorrow for her family, schoolmates and friends.

"It's not just a few elderly people in the late stages of their life that are dying here," Fox said. "It is impacting our young, and that means everybody that age or my age or to the oldest member we have, is at some sort of risk from this virus, and we need to take that seriously."

Three Irons said her daughter loved to draw Japanese anime characters and had a passion for helping people. Ramirez was like a second mom to her eight siblings and she helped many of them log into their distance learning classes at the beginning of the day, Three Irons said.

Even though Ramirez loved taking care of her little siblings, Three Irons said they pretty much dissuaded her from having her own children.

"Her little siblings were kind of more of a deterrent," Three Irons recalled, "and she said she only wanted to be a cat mom."

Ramirez was an enrolled member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Phoenix, Ariz., and her family plans to have a traditional burial for her there next week.

Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com