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'Family Is Just Not Replaceable': How COVID-19 Ravaged One Family in LA's Koreatown

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Hannah Hein Kim with her brother Joseph Jaein Kim, grandmother Soon Sun Kim, and father Chul Jik Kim. (Courtesy of Hannah Haein Kim)

22-year old Hannah Haein Kim is a student at Cal State LA. She lives with her parents and 17-year old brother in LA's Koreatown. On April 14, her grandmother moved in with the family — to keep her safe from COVID-19's spread into nursing homes. Hannah chronicles the family's journey in a series of essays and audio diaries she produced as part of the Gen by Gen project with the Koreatown Youth and Community Center in Los Angeles.

April 17, 2020

My grandma came to live with us yesterday. Before her arrival, her crooked, old medical bed came first and we crammed it into our living room. We live four to a two-bedroom apartment in a part of Koreatown that hasn’t been gentrified yet. News broke last week that most of the senior convalescent centers have been infected with the coronavirus. The Korean radio station warned the public to take our grandparents home as soon as possible. In no time, my mom sprang into action and yesterday, my grandma, who has stayed at the Olympic Convalescent Center for more than five years, has finally gotten a change of scenery.

Hannah and her brother in a recent photo. (Courtesy of Hannah Haein Kim)

I guess you could say it’s bittersweet. It’s nice to have my family all together in one space, but at the same time I feel sad. My grandma has dementia and has lost the ability to walk. She cannot speak or go to the restroom by herself. We used to visit her at the center every other day and we would see only a glimpse of what it takes to care for the elderly. Now, my mom and I have to do everything. Watching my mom struggle to care for her own mother is, for lack of a better word, depressing.

With the quarantine in effect, my dad cannot run his small, acupuncture clinic. He is qualified to remain open because it’s considered “medical help,” but we had to make the difficult decision to close. My dad is almost seventy years old and we thought it’d be too risky for him and our family. We thought we’d be fine for a little bit, but you know what they say — even though work stops, expenses run on.


Since the quarantine, we’ve been filling out more and more financial applications as the bills keep coming in. On top of this, our new landlord is planning on demolishing our four-unit apartment. My family and I have lived here for nearly ten years. We have a garden and a parking lot that we bike back and forth on. To be threatened by a huge corporate company is daunting, especially through this pandemic. Now, as a slightly bigger household, we have no choice but to accept the cards that are being dealt to us.

Hannah Haein Kim, her brother Joseph Jaein Kim, and father Chul Jik Kim in an undated  family photo. (Courtesy of Hannah Haein Kim)

May 11, 2020

I haven’t written lately because when I write, it feels like I have to admit reality. Since the last time I wrote, a few things have drastically changed. Grandma passed away in the hospital. Both of my parents are there as well and my whole family tested positive for COVID-19.

Let me catch you up. Three weeks ago, my mom brought my grandma home from the nursing home, where she lived for six years. At first, she had no symptoms. At the same time, my dad had been feeling a little under the weather and would retire to his room earlier than usual. A few days later, it was my birthday and exactly around midnight, everything took a turn.

My grandma was spiking a fever. With her already weak body, she was fighting a 99-101 degree fever, which lasted for a week. The home care nurse told us there was nothing she could really do, because my grandma was in hospice. On April 27, my mom and I had to make a very hard decision. If we sent our grandma to the hospital, there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to ever see her again. But we knew she was going to pass away if we kept her in our home.

So we called 911. At the hospital, she was immediately put on a ventilator and a ton of other drugs. She tested positive for COVID-19 the next day. This raised a lot of questions like, “Why didn’t we call the ambulance sooner? Why didn’t anyone from the nursing home tell us there was a chance she had COVID-19? Do we all have the coronavirus now?”

After grandma went to the hospital, my dad had to call the ambulance for himself. I woke up at six o’clock that morning, my eyes sealed shut because of the tears that I had shed the night before. I sensed a sinister panic when I heard the ambulance sirens coming closer and closer to my apartment. Before the medics came, I ran to my dad’s room. He was sitting on his desk chair, limp as a noodle, staring at me with worry and panic. My nightmare was playing out right before my eyes.

The last time I saw my dad was when he entered the ambulance. I stood there with my mask on and nodded at him trying to signal that everything would be okay. I wasn’t sure if it would be, but I wanted him to feel safe. My eyes swelled up as the ambulance doors closed without any warning. And I stood there in my pajamas, watching the ambulance drive farther and farther away.

That same day, my mom started to feel sick to the point of not being able to breathe. I took her to the ER and she waited for five hours in a cold room, just to be sent home again. There were no beds available for her. When she got home, she couldn’t stop vomiting and coughing up blood. The next morning, I took her to the hospital again. She still had to wait about four hours, but this time, they admitted her.

My parents have been in the hospital for less than two weeks now, but it feels like a month.

The Kim family, Chul Jik Kim, Joseph, Hannah, and their mom, Eun Ju Kim. (Courtesy of Hannah Haein Kim)

My younger brother and I are home alone. We are very worried about our parents, but also about how we are going to pay our bills. The past few weeks have made a tangled-up ball of frustration and anxiety in my stomach. I’m getting bombarded with calls from the hospital, friends, and family—all out of love and concern, but I’m getting tired. Every hospital call feels like an iron to my heart. I have memorized all the phone numbers to the different floors my parents have been in.

I’m scared of what news the hospital will tell me the next day. I’m terrified, but I still have to listen.

For my grandma, her heart stopped while she was sedated, resting on the ventilator. Our family decided to cremate her and fly her ashes out to New York, where there’s a spot next to my grandpa.

I wonder how my mom is taking it. She’s alone and completely conscious. She has to grieve in isolation. Every phone call has been so short because she can’t breathe. Today, she has been moved to the ICU because her breathing was getting worse. No cell phones are allowed on that floor. So here I wait by the phone, heartbroken on Mother’s Day.

As for my dad, he’s in very critical condition. He is also on a ventilator. I just hope it doesn’t turn out the same as grandma.

Being home has been hell. I can’t do anything. I have no power. All I can do is pray.

Editor’s Note: Hannah and her brother also tested positive for COVID-19. They lost their sense of smell, but did not have many other symptoms. They’ve been alone at home now for four weeks. Their mother is steadily improving. On May 21, their father passed away.

Chul Jik Kim and his son Joseph Jaein Kim in an undated photo. (Courtesy of Hannah Haein Kim)

May 29, 2020

My dad’s passing is hitting us really hard. We loved and love him so much, but we know for a fact that he is in a much better place. It’s hard to admit that he isn’t with us anymore. This changes our lives — the way we live, the way we work, and the way we love each other. My brother and I are doing our best to prepare for our mother’s homecoming. We are cooking and cleaning — keeping each other accountable. Through this, we have become more tight-knit. Although our situation was truly devastating, we are learning so much about each other and the loving community that we have around us. We are taking things day by day.

My mother was released today from the ICU and is on the road to recovery.


A GoFundMe page to help the Kim family has been set up by a friend of the family.

This journal was completed as part of the “K-Town is Your Town” storytelling project from the Koreatown Youth and Community Center and The Eisner Foundation. Katherine Kim at KYCC contributed to the production of this story.


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