During Thanksgiving, Daniel Garcia tested positive for COVID-19. Suddenly, he was battling for his life.
He spent a week at home after the test, his breathing getting worse all the while. Eventually, he decided he couldn’t fight on his own any longer, and went to JPS Health Network on November 30. Garcia wouldn’t leave the hospital for two months.
“Like a lot of patients, he ended up on a ventilator and had to stay in our care for a pretty long time,” said Critical Care Physician Dr. Amanda Pientka. “He had a few good days when it seemed like things were getting better. But then he reached a very scary point. He got very ill very quickly.”
Pientka said, without warning, Garcia’s blood pressure dropped dramatically one day and his kidneys stopped functioning properly. It was suspected that, like many COVID patients, he developed a blood clot in his leg. Doctors feared that part of the clot broke off and traveled to his lungs where it was blocking vital blood flow. They couldn’t be sure, however, because the patient was in too fragile health to be taken to the CT machine for imaging that would confirm their theory.
Caregivers weren’t sure if clot busting drugs would fix the problems Garcia developed. But Pientka said they were certain they had to do something – and they had to find the answer fast. He wasn’t going to survive if things weren’t turned around soon.
While the move was logical, it wasn’t without risk. Pientka said COVID patients walk a fine line between their blood clotting and excessive bleeding. She said doctors have also found that medications often behave in unexpected ways for COVID patients, so any move must be made very carefully.
“After discussing the situation with the family, it was decided to go ahead with the treatment,” Pientka said. “Fortunately, his blood pressure started to come back within a half hour. He still had a long way to go, but he really turned a corner that day. We were so glad go see it.”
Garcia said he was starting to lose faith he was going to pull through before that fateful day.
“I almost didn’t make it,” Garcia said. “So, I am very thankful for everything the people at JPS did for me. I’m very, very happy to still be here.”
Finally well enough to be discharged January 22, Garcia is still regaining his strength and getting back to normal. Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner Kenzie Reich said she’s amazed by the patient’s turnaround.
“We don’t get to see many people who have that hard of a time make such an amazing recovery,” Reich said. “He had his tracheostomy taken out (February 17) and I couldn’t believe how good he looked. I just wanted to give him a big hug. He’s really made a complete turnaround.”
While Reich said the ultimate goal is to send patients back home to their loved ones, it’s not just families that rejoice in the lives saved.
“To see a patient get their life back means so much to all of us,” Reich said. “It’s what keeps us going every day. It’s what we’re here for.”
Pientka said, a year into the fight against COVID, there is still a lot to learn. But progress is being made a little bit at a time, and Garcia is proof of that.
“It’s like driving your car in the fog,” according to Pientka. “You can’t really see where you’re going, but you have to keep moving a little bit at a time. We’re still learning how people with COVID react to different sorts of medication and treatments. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re getting better at this all the time.”