LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- America has reached a grim milestone: More than half a million lives lost to COVID-19. For some people, 500,000 deaths are much more than just a number, it includes someone they loved.

For one Las Vegas family with nine members who tested positive at once, it has turned their world upside down and claimed one life. Funeral arrangements are still on hold as the family prepares to deal with a heart surgery for its newest member.

“It's because of her we are not going to let COVID win,” Denise Fernandez said while holding her infant granddaughter. Octavia, 2 months old, came into the world two months early with her mom fighting COVID-19.

“She just got out of neonatal a couple weeks ago. Doctors just need her to be a little bit stronger to do the heart surgery,” Fernandez relayed about her newest grandchild.

Fernandez’s husband, 49-year-old Eric Sodetani, died on what would have been their 23rd wedding anniversary.

“I begged the doctors to let me in I was already in the parking lot … my heart hurts. It's like you can't breathe,” Fernandez said.

Sodetani is described as “a gentle giant.”  Originally from Hawaii, he worked at a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip and the airport doing his best to provide for his family of 11 living in their home.

“Every day there's tears … my grandson asks for him every day,” Fernandez said. "Every time I hear another death, or even another positive, I pray for their family because I know what it is like."

Fernandez said the virus does not discriminate and is urging people to remain vigilant. 


President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Doug Emhoff participate in a moment of silence during a ceremony to honor the 500,000 Americans that died from COVID-19, at the White House, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“Protocols are in place for a reason ... don’t wait until it hits your family,” Fernandez said.  

Of the eight members of her family surviving COVID-19, Fernandez and her 69-year-old mom still have lingering health challenges and Octavia’s battle continues.

“Every time I look at her and see her fight, I’m reminded that COVID did this to her,” Fernandez said.

COVID-19 has taken half a million American lives but the number of lives it has changed forever, like Denise and her entire family, is far greater.  

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