Lives Lost: Brazilian toddler was saying her first words


RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Vitoria Gabrielle crawled all the time and was starting to walk this year with a little help, hanging on to her 4-year-old brother's arm while exploring her mother's small apartment on a cobblestone street in Rio de Janeiro's working-class Piety neighborhood.

The girl with a constant smile celebrated her first birthday in February, slept and ate well and was enthusiastically saying her first words: “mamãe" and “vovó” (mama and grandma), said her mother, Andréa de Sousa.

But after recovering from viral meningitis, Vitoria Gabrielle suffered gastrointestinal problems that sent her from her mother's barely furnished hilltop home back to the hospital several times for treatment. It was during an April hospital stay that de Sousa suspects her daughter was infected with the coronavirus that was just starting to circulate in Rio and Brazil.

Vitoria Gabrielle died last month — 1 year, 2 months and 21 days after she was born — as COVID-19 cases surged in Latin America's largest and most populous nation, which is now the hardest-hit country globally after the U.S. for virus cases and deaths.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of stories remembering people who have died from the coronavirus around the world.


Only de Sousa and the child's stepfather were allowed to attend Vitoria Gabrielle's funeral in a cemetery where the gravediggers referred to the child and others recently buried there as “little angels" because their lives were cut short long before they could sin. No words were said at the event, kept brief to avoid more infections; the only sounds were de Sousa's sobs.

“My heart is destroyed with the loss of my daughter,” de Sousa, 20, said later in an interview. “You are not ready to lose anybody but, a child? I’m not used to being without her. I miss her a lot.”

At home these days, de Sousa loses herself as if she were in another world, spending much of her time gazing at a slideshow on her phone of pictures of her daughter set to the song “Law of Life” by Brazilian pop music star Sabrina Lopes.

“Everything that is born, dies. Everything that comes, goes. Today a dream died ... On the road of life, we are passengers. But God protects every extra star in the sky,” Lopes sings.

It was on April 9 when Victoria Gabrielle was admitted to Jesus Municipal Hospital to undergo tests to determine why she had been vomiting.

By April 20, de Sousa said she realized that her daughter was constantly tired and having difficulty breathing, a condition she had never suffered before. The child was put in intensive care on April 24, diagnosed a short time later with the coronavirus and died on May 4.

A death certificate that de Sousa showed to The Associated Press said her daughter's causes of death were “Bilateral pneumonia, infected by COVID-19" along with a buildup of fluid in the brain and swelling of the liver and spleen.

While de Sousa is convinced her daughter was infected at the hospital, Rio's Municipal Health Secretariat said in a statement said it wasn't possible to identify the origin of infection because the virus had been spreading throughout Brazil when Vitoria Gabrielle was infected. The statement added that the child received proper care while hospitalized.

De Sousa said her son, Gabriel, had always been very close to his sister and doesn't understand why he hasn’t seen her for so long. He just wants to play with her.

“He asks about her all day. He says, ‘Mom, I miss Gabrielle, why is she living with Jesus Christ?’"

De Sousa added: “And I say to him, ‘God took her, God wanted her close to him.’ Then he says, ‘Wow, but I want to go see my sister.’"

“I'm asking God for strength and it's not easy," de Sousa said. “So I'm looking at her photos and I'm really missing her.”


Clendenning reported from Phoenix. Associated Press senior television producer Yesica Fisch contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.

More From

  • Progressives say primary wins latest sign of momentum shift

    Progressive Democrats celebrated two primary victories Wednesday, claiming the protests over George Floyd’s death and a renewed focus on racial and economic justice have given their candidates new momentum after some rough patches this year. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a member of the “squad” of four first-term congresswomen of color who have drawn attention for their liberal views and distaste for President Donald Trump, scored a convincing victory over Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. Jones had criticized Tlaib as being too divisive.

  • Chiefs eye Breeland suspension with confidence in young CBs

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Chiefs hope to know soon whether cornerback Bashaud Breeland will be suspended to start the season.

  • Bush latest Ferguson protester with political success

    Cori Bush earned a reputation as a fierce activist on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Come January, she’ll almost certainly be representing the St. Louis suburb in Congress, making her the most prominent of many Ferguson protesters who have turned to politics. On Tuesday, just days shy of the sixth anniversary of a white police officer's fatal shooting of Black 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Bush pulled a stunning political upset by ousting 20-year Rep. William Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary.

  • Man born in Hiroshima lights 1964 Tokyo Olympic cauldron

    Yoshinori Sakai was born in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city. Just over 19 years later, he ran with the Olympic flame into the national stadium, left the cinder track, and jogged up a long flight of flower-lined stairs to reach the top. Wearing a white singlet with the rising sun emblem on his chest, he held the torch high in his right hand, faced the cauldron and lowered the flame to set off a ball of fire that signaled Tokyo's 1964 Olympics were set to begin - and Japan was back from the ashes of World War II.