Minneapolis family survives Covid-19, vows to raise awareness

After Covid-19 infected everyone in their family, Charles and Kirstin Johnson-Nixon are now on a mission to spread awareness about the devastating effects of the disease. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus reports.

Posted: Nov 29, 2020 10:21 AM
Updated: Nov 29, 2020 10:21 AM

When Charles and Kirstin Johnson-Nixon pledged a life together for better or worse, the Minneapolis couple had no idea that the coronavirus would write their shared life's most painful chapter.

Kirstin, a social worker who helps counsel teen parents in high school, says she and her husband tested positive for the coronavirus in early May.

Soon afterward, their eldest son, Caleb, lost his sense of smell and tested positive. Then Raphael, one of the couple's 14-year-old twins, came down with a fever and minor headaches. He, too, tested positive.

Kirstin says she and her husband didn't require hospitalization, but the fatigue, coughing and body aches was almost unbearable.

"Here I am, I'm a black woman. I'm overweight, I have some underlying issues, but I thought 'How could this happen? We are doing all the right things,'" Kirstin told CNN. "I've had pneumonia before. I didn't feel what I felt with Covid."

Kirstin's mother, Alberta Johnson, had also tested positive after she was found unresponsive in her Minneapolis home in early May.

And while Kirstin and Charles were home recovering in late May, they received a call they hoped would never happen.

Kirstin's father, William Johnson, who also tested positive for coronavirus in May, had been placed on a ventilator.

"He went in on May 4th and was on high velocity oxygen for 15 days. Then, 12 days later, he was placed on a ventilator," Kirstin said. "I stopped talking to the doctor that was in charge. Every time I talked to her she said that the data said 86-year-olds that go on the ventilator usually die on the ventilator."

The change in William Johnson's condition left his grandchildren troubled, especially 17-year-old Caleb.

"My grandpa was in the hospital for 50 days and there were certain points where he wasn't speaking to anyone," Caleb said.

Caleb and his family had good reason to be concerned.

Black people in the United States are dying at more than double the rate of White people, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The same data shows Native Americans and Latinos are also dying at significantly higher rates than Whites and Asian Americans.

Overflowing with gratitude

Charles Johnson-Nixon is an assistant principal at South Washington County Schools, in the Minneapolis suburbs. He and his wife spent 14 days in isolation. He says that at times his fever would break, but a temperature of 101 would follow and "knock him down."

For moments, he feared the virus would rob him of the opportunity to watch his children become adults.

"That was my biggest fear. I lost my father when I was young. And one of my goals was to make sure I was going to be here for my kids," Charles told CNN. "The idea that this (virus) could turn and take me away from them was the hardest thing to deal with. God kept me here for my boys. I prayed more during that time than ever, and I still do."

This Thanksgiving season, the Johnson-Nixon family overflows with gratitude -- they have been given the gift of life, they say.

A trip to the doctor for a follow-up visit earlier this month revealed Kirstin has symptoms of microscopic blood clots in her lungs, causing congestion. Despite the lingering side effects, Kirstin says she has tested negative multiple times since the positive diagnosis early in the pandemic.

Six months have passed since the mother of three wrapped her arms around her 86-year-old father. William Johnson spent 50 days in the hospital, 12 on a ventilator and 30 days in rehab. He is now home recovering but still needs oxygen and assisted care.

"It is hard not to hug him or to kiss him," she said. "I am so thankful my parents are alive."

More work remains

Charles and Kirstin say their work isn't done. They've spoken on panels and have shared their story in an effort to educate communities hard hit by the virus. Over the summer, the family appeared on a virtual panel hosted by the African American Leadership Forum.

The panel, "We Good? COVID-19 & Black MN Virtual Town Hall," was part of a bi-weekly conversation around the health, economic and educational impact of Covid-19 on Minnesota's African-American community.

And in early November, Charles shared information during a video call with members of his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers at North Carolina Central University.

He discussed the need to make sure Black families take the right precautions and understand the severity of the pandemic.

Together, Charles and Kirstin say they are determined to raise awareness and advocate for testing.

"It makes you want to yell out and be on a mission to bring awareness to people and say, 'Hey, we have to take this serious because we're already dealing with all the other problems that we have to deal with being black in this country,'" Charles said. "2021 will give everyone an opportunity to rethink how they do things, change how they do things if they need to. 2020 will be gone soon, thank God!"

Partly Cloudy
58° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 58°
51° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 51°
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 61°
North Bend
Partly Cloudy
54° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 54°
KEZI Radar
KEZI Temperatures
KEZI Planner


Community Events