On April 30, Ahmed Bokore returned home early from his factory job after doctors told him he had COVID-19. At the time, he had minor flu-like symptoms and planned to quarantine at home until he was virus-free.

Two days later, his wife, Yussur Barkhad, tested positive and came down with a fever and chills. He mixed traditional Somali herbs to try to cure her and himself, but Yussur’s condition grew grave, and she was unable to catch her breath. Paramedics rushed her to HCMC where she was immediately put on a ventilator to help her breathe while in a medically induced coma. An X-ray showed the virus had ravaged her lungs.

Feeling immense guilt, her husband prayed for God to save her. He blamed himself for bringing the virus from work and infecting her.

“I think she got it from me because we lived together,” he said, sobbing. “I wish I would have never gone home that day.”

The couple fought the disease apart. Yussur, 63, remained confined to a hospital bed, while her husband, 62, self-quarantined in their home at Seward Towers in south Minneapolis. Visitor restrictions at HCMC prevented him from seeing her. But Yussur’s care team, including interpreters, called him daily with updates about her health.

The two married in 1993 in Africa and never had children. Yussur, a refugee of the Somali civil war, resettled in Minnesota in 2010, leaving Ahmed behind. He joined her in Minnesota in 2013.

In Minnesota, Yussur held many jobs that included janitorial and day-care work. But for the past three years she had baked chapati breads for Afro Deli, even working briefly out of a church basement when the restaurant had no kitchen space. Punctual and stoic, Yussur was a devout Muslim and a humanitarian, those who knew her said. When disasters such as drought and famine struck her native Somalia and its neighboring states, Yussur was quick to mobilize people and raise relief funds for victims, Afro Deli owner Abdirahman Kahin said.

“She was very active and a hard worker,” Kahin said. “She was happy all the time and healthy.”

In late May, Yussur was transferred to North Memorial Health Hospital, where her symptoms worsened. Doctors told her husband there was nothing more they could do. On June 4, Ahmed made the tough decision to remove her from the breathing machine. Five minutes later, Yussur died.

“She was so loved, and I loved her so much,” Ahmed said, crying.