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'We miss her:' Father of Alberta teen who died convinced she had COVID-19 variant

20210428170448-adbfa8886f5ea10a64e873236865186669aca3a3505bcc079a847d380d1e6464

MAGRATH, Alta. — Ron Strate says he has received about a thousand messages from people in Canada and around the world who have been touched by the story of his 17-year-old daughter, Sarah.

The senior high school student from Magrath, a small southern Alberta town, had seemed fine before her health suddenly deteriorated Monday, said her father.

She died soon after arriving at hospital.

Officials have not confirmed Sarah died of COVID-19. But as cases continue to surge in Alberta — currently the province with the highest rate of new daily infections in the country — Strate said he is convinced she died because of a variant of the virus.

"It's always just been numbers until you can put a face to it ... Now one is my daughter," Strate, a school teacher, said Wednesday.

"I haven't even been able to go on. I've had a thousand messages of condolences and I can't get to them because I'm gonna start crying."

Sarah was three classes away from graduation and was excited to attend college in Lethbridge to become a masseuse, her father said.

The second youngest of the family's five children was also the life of the party, he said.

"She loved to sing and dance. She was a pianist. She did percussion in band. She was a drummer." 

He said more than a week ago, Sarah's 20-year-old sister tested positive for COVID-19 and Sarah started complaining about a sore throat days later. She was booked to get a COVID-19 test on Wednesday.

Sarah was isolating in the basement of the family's home. On Monday, Strate says her health went downhill.

"She started to go delirious and was starting to lose focus on what reality was. So I said, 'We got to call 9-1-1.'"

Strate said they waited about 20 minutes for an ambulance. During that time, he talked to Sarah. Her arms shook as she lay on the floor.

"We talked about being strong and how much we loved her and, you know, whatever our Father and heavens will is will happen," Strate said.

"We never expected her to die."

Strate said a medical examiner told him Sarah had actually been sick for three weeks. A lab test is being done to see if she was infected with a COVID-19 variant. 

"They say her lung was really hard and heavy. And I said, 'How does that happen within a couple of days?' "They can't explain it."

After her death, Strate said many people reached out to tell him that Sarah had saved their kids lives as a leader with Hope Squad, a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program.

He said Sarah's death should also be a reminder for everyone to take the pandemic seriously.

"This was not her time. If everyone would have just done everything right the first time when we were asked to shut down and use our brains ... we probably be out of it now," Strate said.

"All these rallies, fighting the government on (restrictions) ... I totally feel for people that have businesses. Yes, we have freedoms in this country. Of course we do. But also respect what is going on so that we can try to keep our country safe."

On Monday, he said students at Sarah's high school plan to wear onesies to honour her, because she loved wearing them so much.

Her younger sister, 13-year-old Bree, wants to wear a unicorn onesie that Sarah always wore, said Strate.

"We love her and we miss her," he said while crying.

"We're always gonna miss her. But in our faith, we believe that we will see her again and I can't wait."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2021.

— By Fakiha Baig in Edmonton

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press