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Virginia woman with Down syndrome beats COVID-19, participates in week-long delayed holiday celebration

Paula and Kendra.jpg
Posted at 4:24 PM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-01 16:28:36-05

SUFFOLK, Virginia - Kendra has been waiting a long time to be home with her family.

Embracing her independence about a year ago, the 31-year-old moved into a house with other adults with disabilities. She loves it, but she hasn't had physical contact with her family since March.

When the pandemic started, the facility tightened protocols and Kendra, like many others across the country, was only allowed to talk to her family via FaceTime, through her window or on the front porch with a mask.

Kendra was following state-mandated guidelines and had hoped that she would be able to spend the holidays at home, but COVID-19 had other plans.

"We wanted to try to get her for Thanksgiving and that didn't happen, so then we were going to try and take her through December up until January 1," said Kendra's father, Duke Conrad.

Her mother Paula Ridenhour said, "The day she was supposed to come home, they gave her a test and she came back positive."

Kendra's symptoms worsened and she was admitted into the hospital. At one point, her oxygen levels fell so low, doctors and nurses weren't sure what the outcome of her COVID-19 diagnosis was going to be.

However, like the "tough cookie" her family said that she is, Kendra beat COVID-19. When she was released, she needed two negative tests to be cleared by her facility to go home.

"She kept telling me, 'Mommy when are you going to break me out? When are you going to break me out?'" Ridenhour laughed.

That day came on January 22, nearly two months later than expected.

"We went from March to December missing holiday after holiday after holiday," said Kendra's stepmom, Bobbi Conrad. But rather than lingering on lost time, Conrad said, "We left everything up so that we could celebrate all the holidays in these seven days that we've had her."

Kendra ate a Thanksgiving meal fit for a queen, snuggled up with her Christmas PJ's on 'Christmas morning,' and had a Halloween hoopla with some happy-to-be-outside neighbors.

Bobbi Conrad posted on Facebook that Kendra would be filling bags of candy and kids from the neighborhood were welcome to stop by in their costumes to pick up some treats, safely. She said throughout the day, they had over 65 kids come by.

In addition to these holidays, they also had a spa day, hot tub party and Topgolf trip sprinkled in the middle. What were once missed milestones are now tender memories.

Ridenhour said her favorite part of the week was, "Just being able to touch [Kendra]. Like the whole first day I just kept touching her and touching her because you know for 10.5 months we couldn't even touch her."

It's a shared sentiment because even with the presents and celebrations, what delighted Kendra most was what she calls "mommy snuggles." It's a nice reminder that you're never too old to get a big hug from your mother.

"Just cherish time. Make the best of the time that you have," Ridenhour said. "We just want to thank everyone because we couldn't have done it all on our own."

This article was written by Erin Miller for WTKR.

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