COVID fallout lingers for survivors and families

Freddy Fernandez was about to return to his Missouri home, with his baby in his lap chewing on the oximeter he uses to monitor his oxygen saturation after months of battling COVID-19.

Fernandez, 41, a father of six, spent five months hospitalized a four-hour drive from his home in Carthage, southwest Missouri, on the most intensive life support system available. He nearly died several times, and now, like many who have survived COVID-19-related hospitalizations, he has come back changed.

More than a million people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, and many more have survived intensive care stays that have caused anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. health problems. Studies show that starting therapy in the intensive care unit can help, but it was often difficult to do so in hospitals overwhelmed with patients.

There is a human cost to the patient who survives intensive care, said Dr. Vinaya Sermadevi, who helped treat Fernandez while at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. It’s almost like going to war and dealing with the consequences.

Freddy’s memories of those long months are flashes of moments when he regained consciousness, connected to machines that breathed for him, clinging to life. He occasionally asked about his mother, who died of COVID-19 in September 2020.

She missed the birth of her youngest daughter and the first four months of her life. You may never be able to get your construction job back. His other young daughter is terrified of him leaving.

His partner, Vanessa, 28, was still pregnant with Mariana last summer when the delta variant arrived. She was vaccinated at the request of her obstetricians. Freddy was getting used to the idea of ​​getting vaccinated at the end of August, but it was too late. He had been infected.

Fernández, born in Mexico City, came to the United States about 20 years ago to work in construction. She got so sick she ended up in St. Louis, nearly 270 miles from her young daughters; Miguel, Vanessa’s 10-year-old son who considers him his father, and three other children he had with his ex-wife, three boys aged 10, 8 and 7.

It was a dark time, in which the delta variant returned to flood the healthcare system as many believed the pandemic was over. Covering shifts was a daily struggle and death lurked everywhere, Dr Sermadevi recalls.

In a way, Freddy was lucky. While there was a lot of talk about the availability of ventilators, what was most missing during the delta wave was something called ECMO, which stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. It is used when a ventilator is not enough, and it pumps blood out of the body to oxygenate it before returning it.

The hospital only had the equipment and staff to care for three ECMO patients at the same time. And on September 3, Freddy became one of them.

Vanessa gave birth to Mariana on October 13.

Away from her fiancé, Vanessa had a videoconference with Freddy’s doctors the same day she brought her newborn baby home. The news was not good: Fernández was suffering from various infections and was not recovering well.

Sermadevi explained that a lung transplant seemed like his best option, but it was a complicated option.

And it’s possible that Mariana will grow up without a father, Sermadevi recalled, telling the family.

Some of the most important aspects of recovery aren’t medical. It has long been shown that family visits, along with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists, can make a difference for the sickest patients.

COVID-19 has upended these practices in many hospitals, with families separated to prevent the virus from spreading.

Fear of contagion and lack of staff also often meant less physical therapy, which has been shown to speed up recovery.

When Freddy’s family arrived, everything changed.

Her bedroom has been transformed, with photos of her family plastered all over the wall. His family held his hand when he struggled to breathe and talked to him until the end of the episode. He needed fewer sedatives and painkillers because they were that for him, Sermadevi explained.

There was a lot of love on his side, he said.

Once out of the ECMO machine, Freddy began to recover. As her lungs improved, she was soon able to stand up and attempt to walk. The idea of ​​transplantation was eventually abandoned.

On February 9, he returned home, 167 days after arriving at the hospital in his city.

All Vanessa could think of was finally. Freddy had never seen his baby. He also hadn’t seen any of his children at the time. Their interactions were limited to video calls and photos.

Melanii reacted shyly and gave her older brother, Miguel, a brief hug before clinging to their mother.

Vanessa kissed the baby and placed her in Freddy’s arms. A few days before his 4th birthday, Mariana smiled at him.

At first, Freddy needed a walker and a wheelchair. He could not sit or eat without help.

But now the wheelchair is abandoned on the back stairs of the house. You can walk the whole block carrying a portable oxygen cylinder on a cart. He is about to be able to carry his oxygen in a backpack, which would give him more freedom.

Vanessa goes back to work, life gets back to normal.

They want to wait until Freddy gets better to get married.

But they don’t know how much better it will get, or how long it will take.

Such is the story of many, who are alive but forever changed, said Sermadevi, who has followed their progress from afar. Some of the nurses have even become friends with Vanessa on Facebook.

It’s sad and happy at the same time, he admitted. And it’s very difficult to reconcile.”

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