'Okay lang ako rito': Journalist with COVID-19 dies after isolating inside his car

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 7) - Journalist Aris Ilagan can still vividly recall his phone conversation with a long-time friend and former colleague Lailee "Lyle" Parreño on March 26. What was supposed to be a catching-up conversation between two old pals became an emotional and serious exchange.

On that same night, Parreño confessed to Ilagan that he tested positive for COVID-19.

"'Pare may COVID ako', sabi niya, 'Tinamaan din ako'," Parreño told Ilagan. "Nasaan ka? Tinatanong ko siya," Ilagan said.

[Translation: He said 'I was infected with COVID-19' and then I asked where he was.]

Despite the assurances that he was doing okay, Ilagan knew something was not right.

"Habang ginagawa niya 'yun hinihingal siya so nararamdaman ko baka ano na 'yan di na 'yan maganda," Ilagan said.

[Translation: He had a hard time breathing. I told him he does not sound so good. He was catching his breath when he was talking at that time.]

Ilagan added that Parreño would change the topic of their conversation whenever he would ask about his friend's condition.

"Okay lang ako rito pards, basta mag-iingat ka," Parreño told Ilagan.

[Translation: I'm okay here. Please take care of yourself]

The phone call lasted for 30 minutes according to Ilagan. He was left clueless on his friend's whereabouts, on whether he was getting the right treatment, or if he was already isolating.

The next day, March 27, Ilagan said he received a message from Parreño.

"Tulungan mo naman ako... Padalhan mo ko ng load. Wala kasing mabilhan dito," Parreño told Ilagan.

[Translation: Please help me... Can you send me mobile load? I can't find any store here.]

He later on followed up with his friend on how he was doing, where was he, and if he was okay, but there was no response.

The following day, Ilagan received the bad news. Parreño was found inside his car, almost unconscious, and too weak to move.

"Na-discover ang kaibigan ko na nag lock sa kotse. Umaandar 'yung makina. Puno ng pagkain yung sasakyan. He was found there hinang-hina na siya," Ilagan said.

[Translation: He was discovered inside his car. His vehicle was locked but the engine was running. My friend was too weak to move.]

Parreño was brought by rescuers to different hospitals but he was only admitted to a facility outside Metro Manila, where he later on died.

"Puno ng pagkain at inuming tubig ang sasakyan, isang indikasyon na pinaghandaan niya ang kanyang pananatili sa loob ng sasakyan upang magpalipas ng oras at marahil sa pagasang bubuti ang kanyang kalagayan," Ilagan said.

[Translation: His car had food and water supplies. It was an indication that he really prepared for his isolation inside his car. He had hoped that he would recover from the coronavirus.]

Ilagan described his friend as physically fit and jolly. He said Parreño knew there were no more quarantine facilities or hospitals that could take him in. The decision to isolate in his car must be out of fear of infecting his loved ones, he added.

"Hindi na rin siya nakipagsapalaran sa ospital o kaya'y magtungo sa quarantine facility sa loob ng kampo dahil umaapaw na sa pasyente ang mga ito. Marahil ay nagpasiya rin siyang hindi na umuwi sa kanilang bahay upang hindi na mahawahan ang kanyang pamilya," Ilagan said.

[Translation: My friend didn't take chances in hospitals and quarantine facilities including in Camp Crame since he knew they were already full of patients. He decided on his own not to go home as well, fearing that he would infect his family.]

"Ayoko na manisi kung bakit nangyari ito sa kaibigan ko. Iba 'yung decision na ginawa niya eh pero gusto ko lang sabihin na sana seryosohin ang COVID-19. Sunod sunod na 'yung nakikita nating (namamatay) pero wala tayong help na nakikita," he said.

[Translation: I don't want to blame anyone for what happened to my friend. He made a different decision but I want to tell the public that they should take COVID-19 seriously. I've been seeing deaths one after the other. But it seems people could not find the help that they need.]

Ilagan also said Parreño's brother died two days before their conversation due to kidney failure and that he was cremated before Parreño could see him. Ilagan said that may have affected Parreño's decision not to seek hospital treatment.

"Siguro noong may COVID na siya dumagdag sa depression at 'yung kawalang bilib sa health program natin kaya sabi niya ako nalang ito, kaya ko na sarili ko," said Ilagan.

[Translation: Maybe when he got COVID, it (brother's death) added to his depression and his lack of confidence in health programs so he just decided, 'I can do this by myself.']

In the end, Ilagan reminded the public to be more cautious in handling situations like this one. Some people may feel they don't have anyone to turn to, he said.