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Amid Covid Surge, the Story of 3 Indian Americans Who Died During Visits to India

Amid Covid Surge, the Story of 3 Indian Americans Who Died During Visits to India

  • Vice President Kamala Devi Harris’ family also grapples with the pandemic.

As India is being overwhelmed by a record-breaking second wave of COVID-19 cases, at least two local families in New Jersey are mourning the sudden and tragic loss of their loved ones who recently traveled there to visit relatives. 

Ashher Aamir, 36, and Pradeep Kumar Verma, 45, both recently died in India of COVID-19 complications. Verma leaves behind his wife and 9-year-old son Daksh, who has autism. Aamir is survived by his wife and two kids, a 3-year-old daughter and an 8- month-old son. The fathers were the sole financial support for their families. Verma’s son Daksh still doesn’t understand that his father will never return home, according to a report by Central Jersey.Fundraising campaigns have been created for both families to cover funeral expenses, the children’s education and financial support. 

Verma, an IT professional from Manchester, Connecticut, who had no preexisting medical conditions, died after traveling to India to support his aging parents during the pandemic, according to the GoFundMe page — ‘Support Pradeep Verma’s autistic son – Daksh Verma’ — set up by Amit Tiwari, of Edison, and four others.  As of May 8, more than $100,000 from 1,600 donors was raised, surpassing the initial $75,000 goal.

“Family was of utmost importance to him, especially Daksh. He was always worried about Daksh’s future and worked really hard so that he could provide him the best education and medical care,” according to the page. The page describes Daksh as a “beautiful, sweet, happy boy with a gentle soul who is unable to comprehend the loss and is still expecting his father to return from hospital to play with him.” 

Above, Ashher Aamir with his wife and kids. Top photo, Pradeep Kumar Verma with his wife and 9-year-old son Daksh.

The child was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old and requires support in social communication and repetitive behaviors. He loves painting, listening to nursery rhymes, dancing, being tickled and spending time with his father. He attends special schools and expensive therapies, according to the page.

“Pradeep’s wife now faces the task of being the sole caregiver for their boy after many years of being a stay-at-home mother. She is in need of any and all support we can give during this time of grief, to carve out a new way of life without her husband — Pradeep. This loss creates a huge financial burden since Pradeep was the sole provider for his family,” according to the page. 

Aamir, of North Edison, died April 25 from acute pneumonia and lack of oxygen after going to Delhi, India, during the second week of April to be with his mother who was sick and other family members during the month of Ramadan, according to the GoFundMe page, ‘Help Yasmin and 2 small kids post lost of Husband.’ The page created by Amit Joshi is looking to raise $250,000. As of May 8, more than $96,000 had been raised by more than 1,300donors. 

According to the page, Aamir became sick a few days after arriving in India and the rest of his family also became ill. His condition continued to deteriorate in the hospital before dying the morning of April 25. His wife and two children, a 3-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son, are devastated, according to the page. “When we think about Ashher, his ever-helping nature, smiling face and full of life persona comes to our mind. We remember how he used to enjoy playing crickets, actively sharing his views and getting involved in all the festivals across all the religions. He was always concerned about the community and was actively involved to improve various issues of the community,” according to the page.

The fundraiser, organized by Amit Joshi, says that funds raised “will provide the monetary support for the bereaved family which can help in funeral expenses, kids’ education and family support during these difficult times.”

Another casualty of the rising cases in India is New Jersey doctor, Dr. Rajendra Kapila, considered a “giant in the field of infectious diseases. The 81-year-old died in India on April 28, nearly three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Hindustan Times.

Kapila was a professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and was a founding member of the New Jersey Infectious Disease Society. Kapila’s ex-wife, Dr. Bina Kapila, said he went to help care for his family and had planned for it to be a brief trip, according to ABC New York station WABC. 

“A genuine giant in the field of infectious diseases, Dr. Kapila was recognized world-wide and sought out for his legendary knowledge and extraordinary clinical acumen in diagnosing and treating the most complex infectious diseases,” Rutgers said on Kapila’s passing. “Dr. Kapila founded the Division of Infectious Diseases and facilitated its continued and extraordinary growth and development into one of the leading infectious diseases programs in the country.” Kapila’s wife, Dr. Deepti Saxena-Kapila, told the Hindustan Times that he had received both Pfizer vaccine doses in the U.S. before heading to India. 

The CDC notes that fully vaccinated people have a significantly lower risk of getting COVID-19 and even lower risk of severe COVID-19. While it is possible to die from the virus after being fully vaccinated, it is exceptionally rare.

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However, according to Dr. Bina Kapila, her ex-husband suffered from diabetes and heart complications, WABC reported, and could be a possible reason for his demise even after being vaccinated.

The COVID-19 situation in India has also hit a personal note for Vice President Kamala Devi Harris, as some of her family members still live there. Harris’ uncle, G. Balachandran who is retired, vaccinated and largely stays at home alone, told the Associated Press “the conditions are pretty bad in India.” 

As cases in India began to surge in April, the United States faced criticism from Indian leaders for its slow response to sending aid. After the delay in aid put a strain on the diplomatic relationship with India, the U.S. announced it would lift its initial export ban on vaccine manufacturing supplies and has begun sending emergency supplies to India, including oxygen cylinders, masks and rapid diagnostic tests, and plans to share COVID-19 vaccines.

However, Balachandran doesn’t fault his niece Harris for the U.S.’s delayed response. He told the AP that “Kamala would have done all that she can in order to expedite the matter.” The retired academic, who turned 80 this spring, spoke with the vice president and her husband, Doug Emhoff, for quite a while, on the milestone occasion. At the close of their call, Harris assured him she’d take care of his daughter — her cousin — who lives in Washington.“Don’t worry, Uncle. I’ll take care of your daughter. I talk to her quite a lot,” Balachandran recalls Harris telling him. 

He considers himself one of the lucky ones, as he’s retired and largely stays home alone, leaving only occasionally for groceries, so that “nobody can infect me other than myself.”  His sister Sarala is the same, he says, and has largely isolated herself in her apartment in Chennai to avoid exposure. Both are fully vaccinated, something he knows is a luxury in India, which has suffered from a severe vaccine shortage.

That shortage is part of what prompted criticism in India of what many saw as an initially lackluster U.S. response to a humanitarian crisis unfolding in the nation over the past month. In recent days there have been as many as 400,000 COVID-19 cases daily in India and more than 220,000 deaths.

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