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Detroit – When Laneeka Barksdale got so sick from the coronavirus that she had to be hospitalized, she tried to keep family from driving her there so as not to put them in danger.

The 47-year-old mother of four began feeling sick in early March, initially thinking it was just a cold. A slight cough progressed to a fever that ticked up to nearly 102 degrees. Then it stole her breath.

“She didn’t even want my other sister to drive her to the hospital,” her brother Omari Barksdale recalled. “She was in really bad shape and was barely able to breathe, but she didn’t want anyone else exposed.”

A known figure in Detroit’s vibrant ballroom dance and social scene, Laneeka was hospitalized around March 14. She died a little over a week later.

Detroit is emerging as a national hot spot of coronavirus cases. While the city had made some strides toward recovering since the Great Recession and filing for municipal bankruptcy in 2013, it was still struggling with chronic poverty when the coronavirus hit.

Hundreds of people have reached out to the family to offer condolences and to share memories of Laneeka. Described by family as a free spirit, videos of her spinning around and pulling people onto dance floors have been widely shared across social media.

With long, flowing hair and a smile that could light up a room, some friends called Laneeka “the queen” of Detroit-style ballroom dancing, which is a soulful dance popular in the African-American community.

Laneeka knew every variation, from a basic two-step to more sophisticated moves that had her gliding elegantly across the floor with a contemporary twist on the tango and waltz.

“She was that shining star in the room,” Barksdale said. “She had an infectious laugh and made people feel great.”

Laneeka, who for years worked at a casino, suffered from severe asthma and the family believes it may have increased the severity of the disease in her lungs.

For Barksdale, the worst part is that his sister died alone.

“She was on a respirator and heavily sedated so for the last days we didn’t even get to talk to her,” he said. “Nobody could see her.”

Laneeka’s family is raising funds for her burial and to help take care of her youngest child, who is 7. Her other children are 17, 25 and 26.

“It’s hard. It’s really hard grieving in isolation,” Barksdale said. “We’re going to have to continue care for her children, especially the 7-year-old, so we want to prepare and get a cushion for her.”

The family wants Laneeka to be remembered as more than someone who died of COVID-19 complications.

In an impassioned message posted on Facebook hours after her death, Barksdale made a plea for people to take precautions.

“She would want everybody to take this seriously,” Barksdale said with tears in his eyes. “This allows us to tell her story and turn her death into a message to people to hopefully help, as they say, flatten the curve.”

This is part of an ongoing series of stories remembering people who have died from coronavirus around the world. 

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