First, the Pena siblings lost their mom to cancer. Months later, the unthinkable happened: Their father died of COVID-19. Their grandmother, too.
Now, Arian, 20, Sebastian, 18 and Leah, 16 of Bergenfield are left to grieve.
“We’re very devastated," said Arian, "as any family would that loses two people in a matter of a year." "It’s been very hard to lose both parents so fast and so soon."
The Penas know their parents moved to the U.S. from the Dominical Republic to give them a better life and education. The kids are now trying to figure out how they'll fund their educations.
The Penas' uncle, Alex Fana, launched a GoFundMe for the three siblings, which had raised more than $58,000 as of May 1.
“They were two people that came to America, and their number one goal was to build a family and have their kids be successful,” Arian said of his parents. “They would put us before anything.”
Last year, Hilda was diagnosed with cancer. She battled for six months before succumbing on July 6, at 52 years old.
The family was devastated. But Milton worked hard to stay strong for everyone.
“The strength my dad showed me during the time we were alone without my mom gives me strength now to be stronger for my brother and sister and do everything I can to help them,” Arian said.
Milton, 52, continued going to work -- buying cars at auctions and reselling them through his business -- until toward the end of March, when he began presenting symptoms of COVID-19.
First, he tried home remedies -- putting his head over steam, for example. And although he started to feel better, things ultimately took a turn for the worse.
On March 31, Milton was admitted to Englewood Hospital. While there, Milton's mother, Zunilda -- the only grandparent Arian had ever met -- died from COVID-19.
While Arian and his siblings contracted the virus themselves, they recovered within a few days, thanks to their aunt Daisy Fana, who risked her own health by traveling from New York to pick up and care for them.
Then, on April 9, Milton died, too.
“The number one goal of our entire family and anyone involved in the fundraising process is education and all three of us finishing college,” said Arian, who is currently finishing his second year as a pre-med student at Rutgers University and planning for his Master’s.
“School comes first, and we’re going to be paying close attention to how the spending is done.”
Meanwhile, Sebastian is preparing to graduate from Bergenfield High School and begin college, and Leah will be entering her sophomore year.
“We’re doing all we can to get closer and work on each other and build toward the future as well,” Arian said. “Our goal is for all three of us to finish college."
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