When sisters Mariel and Alexa Boden learned their universities were shutting down due to the coronavirus last month, the college freshman and senior were frustrated at the prospect of finishing the spring semester at their family home in Vernon Hills, Ill.

But within days of their arrival home, the sisters’ angst over having their college experiences cut short was swiftly replaced with fear and anxiety.

Their parents, Nancy Frohman and David Boden, who are in their 50s, have tested positive for COVID-19, and this week, the Bodens both remain in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.

Just weeks since their arrival home in mid-March, Mariel, 20, and Alexa, 19, now find themselves acting as patient advocates for their parents, who are on ventilators and prohibited from having their daughters visit due to contagion concerns.

“We can’t change what has happened to our parents,” said Mariel Boden, a senior at McGill University in Montreal, who expects to graduate next month. But she said that by speaking out, it might “prevent this from happening to other families.”

“It would be a lie to say that Alexa and I weren’t disappointed that we weren’t going to be able to celebrate our birthdays at college with our friends, and my graduation ceremony was canceled,” Mariel Boden said. “But after our parents got sick, we quickly realized, ‘OK, this is what we have to do for our parents, and what we have to do for the good of everyone else.’”

Now, Mariel and Alexa, who is completing her freshman year at the University of Connecticut, are juggling their online coursework with monitoring their parents’ illnesses, which began just days after the sisters arrived back home, when their father was diagnosed with the flu and told to get plenty of fluids and rest.

A few days later, their mother felt ill and was prescribed antibiotics for what was believed to be a sinus infection.

But both of their conditions quickly worsened, and by March 23, David Boden was sent from an urgent care center to the hospital’s ICU. Two days later, Nancy Frohman was also hospitalized in critical condition, Mariel Boden said.

After their hospitalizations, both tested positive for COVID-19, the family said.

Frohman, who works for a nonprofit organization, and David Boden, who is in sales and plays guitar with two local bands, are healthy and active, Mariel Boden said, so the hospitalizations came as a shock to their friends and family, including their daughters, who within 48 hours became responsible for their mother and father, and running a household.

“I didn’t even know you had to pay to have the trash picked up,” said Mariel Boden, who on a recent afternoon fielded a call from the hospital, reminding her that she and Alexa still needed to complete the power of attorney paperwork authorizing them to act on behalf of their parents.

Having spent most of their childhoods in Singapore, where their parents were professionals, the sisters were raised in a close-knit family, where they were taught to think of community as not only those in your neighborhood, but people across the world.

“Our parents always remind us that we’re really lucky, and we have a responsibility to give back and do everything we can to make the world a better place,” said Mariel Boden, who hopes to have a career in public health.

“I want to develop health system structures so we are better prepared for emergencies and disasters, ironically,” Boden said.

Indeed, with the family having lived in Singapore during the SARS pandemic of 2003, Boden said her parents were well aware of the importance of social distancing and sheltering in place, and both had been scrupulous about following public health guidelines in the weeks before they were diagnosed with COVID-19.

While Mariel and Alexa, who are Stevenson High School graduates, have completed their recommended quarantine period, they are still not straying from home these days, and only walking the dog or wandering to the end of the driveway to say “thanks” to the many visitors who have dropped off meals and provided financial support.

“We wanted to tell our story so we could emphasize how important it is for everyone to be following the public health guidelines, and also to show our appreciation for our local community … all of the health care providers at the hospital, and the essential workers, like people working at grocery stores,” Mariel Boden said.

“These people are putting their health at risk, and their lives on the line. People we’ve never met have called to make sure Alexa and I are OK. … It’s so hard to put into words. But without all of them, we truly could not have survived the last three weeks.”


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