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Family of 99-year-old Holocaust survivor homebound in Toronto pleads for COVID-19 vaccine

Debi Traub considers her mother Frieda Traub her best friend and cannot imagine life without her. 

Once a week, Debi posts a new picture of her mom on her Facebook page and frequently shares her parents’ story of surviving the Holocaust with anyone who asks. Her parents hid in an attic in Poland for a number of years with Debi’s uncle and an older brother, who was an infant at the time. 

Simon Traub, Debi’s father, died in 2006 and her mother has lived in the Don Mills home with the help of personal support workers ever since.

Debi said her mother’s fighting spirit defines who she is today and is determined to see Frieda celebrate her 100th birthday in November. However, the past month has certainly been a challenge for the 99-year-old North York great-grandmother.

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“It’s extremely frustrating. I feel that the system failed her and sometimes I feel that I tried everything and I didn’t do enough to prevent this,” said Debi, explaining how her mother became ill with COVID-19 earlier in April after one of her personal support workers, who was hesitant about getting the vaccine, got sick, came to work and unknowingly spread the virus to Frieda.

In January, Debi registered her mother for the in-home vaccination program for people who are homebound and anxiously waited for word that someone would be coming to give her a shot. She said her mother already qualifies for the annual influenza vaccine program, which sees paramedics visit vulnerable seniors in their homes, since Frieda is considered palliative.

Although Frienda had her flu vaccine in January, the COVID vaccination never came. 

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“As time went on, I basically kept calling weekly to both LHIN (the Local Health Integration Network) and to her Mount Sinai hospital palliative team and they just kept saying to me, ‘We don’t know when this is going to happen,’ and my biggest fear was not that she was going out, but that people were coming in,” said Debi.

“That’s the issue with most homebound patients, they have care in the home. My mother has 24-hour care and personal support workers who look after her.”

The irony is that had Debi’s mother gone into a long-term care home, something she said her mother never wanted, she would have gotten the shot. 

“I kept saying to my family, ‘I’m so happy I made that promise to keep her home and safe,’ but she wasn’t safe,” explained Debi.

The family has since hired private nursing staff and has set up a make-shift hospital room inside Frieda’s home complete in the hope she will recover. 

“When it comes to my mom, there are no limits. She has been on a rollercoaster ride since she was diagnosed. She’s been bed-ridden, she’s had oxygen delivered to the house, she’s been on oxygen and an IV,” said Debi.

Dr. Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and the University Health Network, led advocacy for seniors over the age of 70 to be prioritized for vaccinations in phase one. He told Global News he feels terrible for seniors like Frieda who are still waiting to be vaccinated.

He said the issue is not only the supply of the Moderna vaccination, which is best suited to in-home vaccinations since it travels well, but also a lack of vaccinations.

Sinha said roughly 6,000 seniors in Toronto have been registered for in-home COVID-19 vaccinations. But Toronto Public Health reported only around 2,300 people have gotten a shot.

“This is the tragedy of the vaccination rollout that unfortunately, for some people, has been too slow,” he said.

Meanwhile, Debi said see continues to visit her mother in full personal protective equipment. She said she is hopeful Frieda will get better soon and someone will call to deliver the news she’s been waiting for, that the COVID-19 vaccination is on its way.

“I did get some news today from her palliative care doctor. She said that Sunnybrook hospital might be rolling out a program to the palliative care team at Mount Sinai, which would enable those doctors to vaccinate homebound patients on their own,” said Debi.

“If she does get a visit from her doctor, she may be getting the vaccine in the next few weeks.”

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