Maria Menounos is detailing the "nightmare" that was both of her parents, who are severely immunocompromised, getting COVID-19 late last year and the struggle to keep them alive.
The days before Thanksgiving last year were terrifying for Menounos, she recounts in a new video shared with PEOPLE. The journalist and host of Better Together, 42, was at home in Connecticut when she learned that her mom Lista's brain tumor was "growing," marking yet another roadblock in her mom's battle with stage 4 brain cancer. Then the next day, the caretaker for Lista and Menounos' father, Costas, who has type 1 diabetes, texted to say that she had tested positive for COVID-19.
Menounos flew out to Los Angeles, where her parents were staying with her husband, Keven Undergaro, the next day, and upon landing opened her phone to "text messages that brought me to my knees," she says.
"My mom was rushed to the hospital. Unresponsive. I raced to the hospital parking lot, where mom was admitted to meet Keven and my dad. I hugged them in a careful way, knowing they were probably infected, but also so scared that they were next. I had to hug them. I didn't get the chance to, with my mom. We were all so emotional, worried if she would make it."
Menounos' parents and Undergaro all got tested for COVID-19, and while Undergaro was negative, both Lista and Costas' tests came back positive.
"So this became a nightmare really fast," she says in a video filmed on Nov. 28. "So many things are pouring through my head. I'm thinking that I'm going to lose my parents and this is awful. And I may not even be able to say goodbye."
Menounos' father was able to stay at home and isolate in their guest house, where Menounos would check up on him, decked out in a painter's suit, a mask and a face shield. Meanwhile, her mom was awake in the hospital but dealing with brain fog, and Menounos kept an eye on her thanks to a nurse who set up a 24/7 FaceTime call.
Her dad did well at first, but after spending time outside in the cold one day, his oxygen dropped to 88% and he had to be rushed to the hospital.
"Things got surreal at that moment," Menounos says. "I kept juggling calls from two hospitals, for two parents clicking between the two at the same time, most times and a giant notebook in front of me to keep track of both of their cases."
Both her mom and dad were eventually able to come home from the hospital, and Menounos "now had one patient upstairs, the other one just below, downstairs."
"It was exhausting. Checking blood pressures and oxygen levels, temperatures, feverishly calling their respective doctors and them telling me they needed to go back to the hospital on numerous occasions because they weren't well."
But Menounos says that she knew that she "couldn't" send them back to the hospital, because "I wouldn't get them back."
"Also, soon after they're released the hospital surged with patients," she says, of the difficult months in Los Angeles when the city dealt with an overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations. "Reports were hospitals were turning away ambulances, putting patients in floral shops, there just was no space. I just had to leave it in God's hands and pray."
Menounos' dad came back "better than ever," but an MRI in January showed that her mom's tumor had "quadrupled in size" and that she now had a brain bleed. And because Lista had COVID-19, she was "too weak" to undergo any treatments for her tumor.
"If it weren't for COVID, her doctor is convinced she would have been fine," Menounos, who had her own benign brain tumor removed in 2017, says.
Menounos says she "was numb for a full 24 hours," and then decided to move both of her parents to her home in Connecticut, where her mom is now in at-home hospice care.
"The truth is, she's been a miracle, surviving glioblastoma almost five years and beating COVID? I'm grateful for every minute we've gotten, but I can't help but want more," Menounos says. "Here's what I've learned, guys. COVID sucks. I knew it. And now I KNOW it."
Crying, she adds that her "heart bleeds for those who lost their loved ones, who didn't get to be with them and hold their hands," and tells viewers, "don't wait until someone is dying to treat them well, don't wait till it's almost over to let them know how much you love them."
Menounos, who recently shared that she and Undergaro are planning to start a family soon, says that November and December "were the toughest months" of her life, and thanked the health care workers who kept her parents alive.
"You entered this field to save lives, but now you've risked your own for them," she says. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
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