Mother-of-five Josiane Ekoli “knew the risk” without adequate protective equipment, her children said, but continued to go to work at Harrogate District Hospital.
She spoke of the problems caused by a lack of adequate PPE several times, they added.
The 55-year-old died in the hospital where she worked last Monday, six days after she was admitted.
“After her children, work was most important thing, she continued going work throughout where she was needed,” her son Aaron Ekoly, who described his mother as “dear to her community”, told ITV News.
“I warned her not to go but she’d say ‘if I don’t go who’s going to pay for the food, the house’ and with all this going on we need someone that’s going to be able to provide.
“She sacrificed herself to go to work for us.”
When Josiane first started to feel ill, she reassured her children she simply had a cold and would be back to normal soon, her daughter Naomie said.
But she soon started to feel a pain in her shoulder, which her son Kenan would massage, and her condition deteriorated despite her constant reassurance.
“We went upstairs and she was burning hot and she was breathing a bit weird so I called my little sister to stay with her while I boiled water and put Vicks and lemon ginger in,” Naomie said.
“We went upstairs and she said she couldn’t do it, she couldn’t breathe. She told us to call an ambulance.”
Naomie said the moment her mum told her to call an ambulance “hit her differently” as her mother had always been “superwoman” to her.
The last time she ever saw her was as she was taken into the ambulance.
She was moved into the intensive care unit as her breathing difficulties continued – but still she would tell her children she was getting better.
Her son, Jean-Claude Ekoly, said his mother’s last words to him were “stick together as a family and fear God”.
She had a similar message for youngest daughter Aalijah Ekoli, who said the last words she heard were “don’t worry, your brothers and your sister are here”.
Aaron said: “I’ve seen her, throughout the years, go through the biggest struggles and she still made it out so I was thinking that this is just another victory for her.
“All her fights… I just miss her so much. I think about her every day. I wake up and she’s the first thing on my mind. I go to sleep and she’s the last on my mind.
“I didn’t realise how big a role someone can play in your life until... she isn’t here anymore.
“She played such a pivotal role in all our lives and now she’s no longer here.”
Her family spoke out over the PPE shortages, saying their mother repeatedly told them about the problem.
Kenan said: “I don’t think she was [adequately protected], I spoke to her and other women who worked with my mum, the other woman left because of the PPE but my mum couldn’t leave because there was no one to pay the bills for the house.
“She knew it was a risk to keep going but she always put us before herself and this was the outcome of that – not just us but others as well and always wanted to help others.
“That was her aim. She’s been nursing over 30 years and helping people is embedded in her. I don’t think the equipment she was given was up to scratch from what she told me.”
Jill Foster, Chief Nurse at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, said Ms Ekoli was a much-valued agency nurse who has worked with the Trust for the past two years.
She added: “Josie will be sadly missed by all her friends and colleagues at Harrogate District Hospital and our thoughts are with her family at this difficult time.
“The coronavirus pandemic has presented the NHS with many challenges, one of which is the significant increase in the use of Personal Protective Equipment.
“We have implemented the national guidance as published by Public Health England. This is very clear about what PPE should be used in which situation to protect our staff.
“We are confident that all our staff have had the right PPE when they have needed it.”
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