ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Michelle Lee Carter was a healthy 53-year-old.
She was enjoying one of the happiest stages of her life after recently landing her dream job: mentoring and supporting struggling teenage girls at a local boarding school.
Far beyond that, Carter’s family describe her as an incredible mother and grandmother who gave and gave to others, and then gave some. She loved getting together and bringing joy to friends and family.
“She always had at least 20 pies available at Thanksgiving,” said her daughter, Lauren Mayes. “And she would be like, ‘Oh no! There’s only 15. There’s not enough,’ and then we would have to calm her down that it was enough.”
About two weeks ago, Carter texted her two daughters and told them she was not feeling well.
“She said, ‘I’m definitely sick, but don’t worry, it’s not COVID — I’ve talked to the doctors,'” recalled Kristen Campbell, Carter’s oldest daughter.
But on April 7, Carter died at a Round Rock hospital from COVID-19.
Her grieving daughters, Campbell, 29, and Mayes, 27, shared their mother’s story with KXAN via FaceTime while sitting side-by-side. They believe there’s a chance their mom might still be alive if she had been tested sooner for the virus.
“It is crucial for us to have access to more testing,” said Mayes. “Who knows what the outcome would be if my mom had been able to be tested many days earlier when she was showing symptoms.”
Campbell said her mom was tested for COVID-19 at the hospital about a week after becoming ill. Her mom initially had several telemedicine appointments from home with her doctor who thought she just had the flu, but Campbell does not believe an actual flu test was given.
Early on, Carter was experiencing a really high fever and was extremely tired, but was not feeling short of breath. Campbell and Mayes believe that’s why their mom was not allowed to be tested at the time for COVID-19.
Texas has been prioritizing COVID-19 testing for healthcare workers, first responders, seniors, those with underlying health conditions and those experiencing symptoms beyond cold and flu. Carter did not meet that criteria yet.
As the days went on, the situation changed. Carter described it to her daughters as an attack and said all of a sudden she couldn’t breathe.
The doctor told her to go to the emergency room, which was about a week after she started feeling sick. Carter drove herself to the hospital, was immediately put in an isolated room in the ER at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center Round Rock and tested for COVID-19.
The next day, the results came back positive.
Carter was moved to an isolated room in the intensive care unit. She would call her daughters because they were not allowed to be with her.
“I could just tell with the cough she was struggling to catch her breath and I was like, ‘Mom, I’m just gonna ask you ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions — stop talking.'” said Mayes. “Like this woman could talk your ear off and she just was like, ‘I’m going to talk.'”
As the long days went on, Carter’s condition continued to decline. After a seven-day battle in the ICU, Carter died.
The hardest part for her daughters was not being able to go to the hospital to visit and encourage their mom. They had one call a day with her medical team, and could ask questions. When their mom became too weak to hold a phone to her ear to hear her daughter’s voices, the ICU nurses held it for her.
“I just wish we could be there holding her hand and I wish we could say goodbye,” said Mayes in tears. “I just hope she knows that there would be 100 people in that room if they could be.”
Their deepest gratitude goes to the doctors and nurses in the ICU risking their own lives to try and save Carter’s. Campbell said she could hear the exhaustion in their voices every time they would talk.
Before their mom got sick, Campbell, who has a talent for cookie decorating, had started working on a cookie bouquet to post pictures of online and bring joy to healthcare workers on World Health Day. While her mother was fighting to stay alive, she documented her raw emotions in a blog post.
Campbell eventually posted pictures of the completed bouquet on Instagram the day her mom died.
Carter’s daughters say their mom was the second COVID-19 death in Williamson County, and the 11th person in the county to test positive for the virus.