Alone at home, a Salem pastor prays as his wife fights for her life against the coronavirus

Teresa and Jerry Miranda together at church (Courtesy/Jerry Miranda)

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For decades, Pastor Jerry Miranda has done everything with his wife Teresa by his side.

But since Sunday, March 15, he’s been at home, mostly alone, waiting on calls from Salem Hospital as his wife battles a serious case of COVID-19.

“I haven’t seen my wife since Sunday. I haven’t been able to talk to her. We’ve been married 38 years,” he said Friday, his voice cracking.

Miranda, 58, is the pastor of Salem Tabernacle Church, a Pentecostal congregation of about 300 people off Cordon Road in east Salem. He started the church with Teresa, 56, 30 years ago, shortly after moving to Salem in 1988. The couple has four adult children in the Salem area.

He’s leaned on his faith and the church community, both locally and internationally, as he stays home and prays for his wife. The church is open 24 hours a day for anyone who wants to pray, he said.

“There are people coming in every day, every day praying,” he said. “I’ve gotten calls from around the world.”

His wife is one of 17 diagnosed cases in Marion County.

Miranda said his wife cared for three of their grandchildren who were sick in late February so the kids’ parents could go to work.

She soon developed a fever and flu-like symptoms and stayed home from her job as an instructional assistant at Mary Eyre Elementary School.

Last week, feeling better, she returned to work at the school, Miranda said. But then the symptoms came back.

On Sunday, March 15, Miranda went to church to lead service for about 160 people. Teresa, who would normally go with him, stayed home. Miranda got home around 3 p.m.

“She was wheezing terribly, breathing terribly,” he said of his wife. After calling her doctor, Miranda drove Teresa to Salem Hospital’s emergency room around 4 p.m., he said.

He didn’t realize the hospital had begun limiting visitors in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

“Once they took her behind the wall, I didn’t get to see her again,” he said. He’s not allowed to visit her in the hospital.

For the Miranda family, the past five days have brought mostly grim updates.

On Sunday night, Miranda was told his wife had severe pneumonia in both lungs. Doctors put her in a medically-induced coma.

Hospital staff tested her for the novel coronavirus after she was admitted. He learned she was positive March 19, on a call from one of her doctors.

Miranda said knowing his wife is ill with a virus that has caused widespread fear and social disruption in recent months didn’t change how seriously he viewed her illness. 

But he said the virus is giving people a chance to reflect on what’s truly important in life – relationships with family, friends, God and neighbors.

“It’s something new to all of us and obviously life will never be the same after this,” he said.

“I do believe we’ll come out of this and we will have learned a great lesson … how precious life can be and don’t take things for granted.”

Salem Tabernacle isn’t holding services now, said Sarah Coronel, Miranda’s daughter. The congregation is aware of her mother’s illness, she said, and many are praying regularly for the family.

Miranda said he has been asked to quarantine at home, which he started on March 15. He hasn’t been tested for COVID-19 because he doesn’t have a fever, but he’s monitoring his temperature. His children are now also quarantining at home, he said.

Mary Eyre principal Corina Valencia-Cushman told students and staff about Teresa Miranda’s illness Thursday night in an automatic phone call home, district spokeswoman Lillian Govus said. The message did not mention the COVID-19 diagnosis, but urged anyone feeling sick to contact their regular health care provider.

The school is being disinfected during its closure, as are all Salem-Keizer schools, Govus said. The district gave the Marion County Health Department the name of students and school employees who have been in close contact with Miranda, fewer than 20 people.

County health workers will notify those determined to be at risk because of close contact.

On Friday morning, Miranda got the first bit of good news the family has had since Teresa went into the hospital. Her breathing was slightly improved, and doctors were considering taking her out of the coma to see how she responds.

Miranda posted the update on Facebook, rejoicing with friends and family.

“I know God’s on the throne and I know a miracle’s coming now,” he said.

Over the past week, he said he’s received thousands of calls, texts and notes from people around the world, including friends he hasn’t spoken to in years and members of other Pentecostal churches.

“They say that no bad guy dies, because at his funeral, everyone says how great a guy he is. And yet here I am not dead, I’m alive and people are sending me eulogies. They’re telling me what a difference I made in their lives,” he said, speaking through tears.

He’s waiting to share that joy with Teresa.

“When my wife wakes up and sits on our couch again, I’m going to pull up all these thousands of texts. I’m going to read them with her. And she’s going to hear how people talk about her,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander at [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.