A Jackson Memorial Hospital ICU nurse working in the COVID-19 unit has spent months healing and helping patients. But now the Chicago native and mother of two is asking the public for a helping hand.
In the span of a few months, Maria Sulayman, 44, has dealt with a cascade of physical and emotional obstacles. She and her two children contracted COVID-19, her husband fell to his death while working in Pensacola, and she is facing eviction. Sulayman is six months behind in rent. She’s been out of work for three months, and the bills for funeral costs, legal fees and groceries keep piling up.
“[It] was so heartbreaking to hear that she has gone through so much,” said Jackson spokeswoman Lidia Amoretti, the agency that nominated Sulayman for Wish Book. “She has been fighting to cure and to treat people, being away from her family. … I just felt for her. I wanted to make sure that people did not forget about her.”
Sulayman said her landlord is looking to sell the house, meaning she wouldn’t be able to stay even if she made the back rent. Now, she and her two children have to find a new place to live before the end of the year, or they could become homeless.
“Honestly, home is where the heart is. So as long as me and my children are together ideally, I don’t care,” she said. “But I am worried about not having a roof over my head and becoming homeless.”
Sulayman started working with COVID-19 patients in March and said she was very cautious when it came to her family. She avoided hugging them or making other contact. But when she caught the virus a few months later from a coworker, both of her children soon got it as well.
(This story first appeared in the Miami Herald)
Though she and her son, Anthony Davis, 24, showed only minor symptoms, daughter Suzanne Davis, 21, had it much worse. “My symptoms were mild for 10 days, which was only like a headache, sore throat, runny nose, flu-like symptoms,” she said. “My daughter was developing pneumonia. I exhausted myself treating her for the first 10 days.”
Sulayman returned to work, but then her daughter caught COVID-19 again, and she took another leave. She planned to return to work Sept. 13. But on Sept. 10, she received news that her husband, who owned a tree-cutting business, had been killed on the job.
”I woke up that morning and just knew something was wrong. He was out of town for Hurricane Sally cutting down some trees … in Pensacola. It was his last job of the day. He was about to come home,” said Sulayman.
She said he fell about 100 feet from the tree, severing his spinal cord.
Again, she had to delay work and a steady paycheck.
Though her husband, Jordan Dunlop, had accidental-death insurance until February, the couple decided the premiums were too expensive and removed him from the policy. As a result, Sulayman now has to cover all funeral expenses and manage her husband’s unfinished business. She estimated the extra expenses and lack of work have put her about $25,000 in debt.
“Meditation and yoga are the only things keeping me going right now,” she said. ”I’m in the process of finding a grief counselor before going back to work.“
The work of medical professionals during a pandemic is exhausting, she said. Sulayman said she and the COVID-19 unit in Jackson Memorial Hospital have been trying to do the best they can, with the resources they have on hand despite not having all the answers. The work is complicated by people who either don’t take the threat of COVID-19 seriously or believe it is a hoax.
“It’s exhausting not being able to process what is happening. Just being away from your families has been really tough, and people not taking it seriously has been the most exhausting,” said Sulayman.
Despite all these troubles, Sulayman remains hopeful for her future. She is a year away from finishing her nurse practitioner license and then plans to open a private holistic practice.