Article originally published in The Orange County Register
Chanel Dalirifar saved a life and had her own life saved – all in just the last 16 months.
In 2019, Dalirifar was on the fifth floor of a parking structure at the Shops at Mission Viejo, talking a woman out of jumping to her death.
Months later, she was in Mission Hospital across the street, spending 20 days in an intensive care unit fighting for her own life as she battled the coronavirus.
It’s a lot to take in for a 23-year-old lifelong Mission Viejo resident, Dalirifar admits. But through it all, her parents, community and God have been with her, she said.
“I’m grateful for God.”
“A God experience”
As she puts it, a Saturday in January 2019 “couldn’t have been more of a God experience” for Dalirifar, who worked as a makeup artist at Nordstrom in the Shops at Mission Viejo.
Because a friend’s little sister needed makeup for her winter formal at Capistrano Valley High, Dalirifar started her shift earlier than usual that day. That freed her up for a two-hour lunch break and a quick trip home.
As she walked back to work, FaceTiming a friend, she heard a scream and a woman dangling her legs off the mall’s parking structure. Along with a mall security officer, Jonathan Marshall, she sprinted up the building.
“She was hysterical,” Dalirifar said. “She was crying, saying no one cared.”
Dalirifar and Marshall held the woman’s hand and made small talks – anything to “get her off the mind of what she was thinking,” Dalirifar said. She asked the woman of her favorite color, of her family, of her son.
More and more the woman talked, more she reminded Dalirifar of her uncle, who had committed suicide years ago.
The woman’s favorite color was blue, just like his. Her hair was brown with a reddish tint, just like his. She “looked like a normal, normal citizen,” just like he did, Dalirifar said.
“My uncle was one of the best people I knew in my life,” Dalirifar said. “If someone was there for him, he would have listened.”
At the parking structure, Dalirifar shared her experience of what it had been like to lose someone she loves so dearly.
“This is going to affect everyone, even those whom you don’t know,” Dalirifar recalled telling the woman. “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about him and love him.”
The woman turned around as Marshall called the police. Officers came 10 minutes later to help the woman. Dalirifar doesn’t know what happened to her. “I only hope she’s doing better.”
Along with Marshall, Dalirifar was honored by the American Red Cross Orange County as 2019 community heroes.
Fighting for her own survival
Dalirifar quit her job at Nordstrom in March, as she was interviewing to be a flight attendant for Delta.
The day after her last day at work, she felt feverish.
By March 22, her fever was 103 degrees and she was throwing up blood. She went to Mission Hospital, where she waited outside an emergency room.
“That was the last time I saw her for the 35 days,” said her sister, Paris Dalirifar.
Two days later, Chanel Dalirifar was on a ventilator and in the intensive care unit, about to be put into an induced coma.
“I’m really scared,” she told her family.
Two weeks of dreams and nightmares followed for Dalirifar.
“I didn’t know what was real, I didn’t know what was not,” she said.
And her family had to go through two weeks of worried anguish.
“It was paralyzing, crippling. Very traumatic,” Paris Dalirifar said. “Doctors were transparent with us and let us know it could go either way.”
Through it all, nurses helped the family FaceTime. Paris Dalirifar sent words of encouragement from her friends and extended family.
“We just told her we loved her. God was going to carry her through this,” Paris Dalirifar recalled telling her sister. “She has so many people praying for her. She had to fight.”
Beyoncé’s “Love on Top” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsies” – songs from two of Chanel’s favorite artists – comforted her as well.
“Beyoncé is everything to me,” she said, laughing.
It was Good Friday when Paris Dalirifar and her family got a call that Chanel would be taken off her ventilator. On Easter, Dalirifar grabbed her phone – which she said felt “like a 500 pound” – and with the help of her nurse, FaceTimed her family.
The first words from Dalirifar: “I love you too, Dad.”
“We all just started to cry,” Paris Dalirifar said. “It was like a little baby Chanel.”
After six days of rehabilitation in an isolation room she finally took a walk outside on April 25.
Dalirifar said she’s not an affectionate person, but she spent much of the first few minutes outside hugging her family and friends.
“I couldn’t stop sobbing like a baby,” she said. “It was the best day of my life.”
A drive-by parade, with the help of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, greeted Dalirifar as she returned home after more than a month. Her stepdad and his cousin flew planes to write “Welcome back home, Chanel” in the air.
Her family threw a barbecue for Dalirifar, with Paris Dalirifar making her sister’s favorite food: Cauliflower mac and cheese.
“It was great to feel the sense of normalcy,” Dalirifar said.
Dalirifar has spent the last few weeks regaining her strength, and, as her sister quipped, her sarcastic personality.
“It’s been fun having her home. I’m lucky, I really love my sister, not just as a sister but as a friend,” Paris Dalirifar said. “It’s nice to have her home, picking at me and making fun at me, all in good fun.”
On her Instagram page, Paris Dalirifar has been keeping track of her sister’s fight against the coronavirus, from the day she was admitted to the hospital to now.
In a post written April 7, Paris Dalirifar said seeing Chanel struggle had been hard for the family.
“There was so much uncertainty,” she wrote. “This virus truly has a mind of its own.”
But she said if she learned anything through all of this, it’s that the heaven above works in a mysterious, yet extraordinary, way.
“You really just have to trust that God has a plan far greater than our own,” she said. “So, that’s what we will continue to do.”
Chanel Dalirifar, center left, celebrates her release from Mission Hospital after more than a monthlong stay due to the coronavirus (Courtesy of Paris Dalirifar).
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