In late April, Tito Velasquez, 33, was driven to the hospital by his brother after complaining of flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath. It turned out to be one of the most severe cases of the virus the hospital had ever seen – and providers were less than optimistic when they first met him
In fact, he looked closer to death than life when he first arrived at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital. Dr. Jason Yan, an ER physician at the facility, recalls, “He couldn’t respond to any commands. He couldn’t even look to one side. His eyes were locked in the same position.”
That was the beginning of a long and arduous road. Find out why he is getting so much attention for his unlikely recovery.
A Grim Diagnosis
Things didn’t look good for Velasquez when he was first admitted to the hospital. According to the providers on hand, he had a blood oxygen level of just 11, compared to a healthy rating of 100. A rating under 60 usually results in a death sentence.
At the time, he was partially paralyzed due to a stroke, and was also suffering from a blood clot in his lung. Dr. Yan and his team immediately treated the young patient with a blood-thinning medicine; however, his lungs were still failing, so they moved him to a ventilator.
As his condition deteriorated, the hospital brought in a team of specialists from North Shore University Hospital. They hooked him up to an ECMO machine and continued to monitor his vitals. As his blood oxygen level increased and his condition stabilized, he was sent to another medical facility.
Again, the responding team was less than optimistic. As Dr. Mangala Narasimhan remembers, “None of us thought he would make it.” He was essentially “skin and bones” by that point, giving providers little hope for the future.
His blood oxygen levels were still dangerously low, half his brain was damaged due to the stroke, and one of his lungs had collapsed. All his organ systems had been compromised in some way.
But Dr. Narasimhan didn’t give up. Knowing that Velasquez was a young patient gave her and her team some much-needed hope. “He was 33, and sometimes a young patient can surprise you,” she recalls.
After dealing with infections in his urinary tract, doctors played the waiting game, hoping that his condition would eventually improve.
Beating the Odds
When Velasquez finally moved one of his fingers a few days later, the entire department rang out with excitement.
As Dr. Narasimhan describes, “Everyone was cheering and clapping. Everyone was so devastated by what they had seen during the pandemic. And now here we are, crazy cheering about moving a little finger. It was a symbol of triumph.”
The young patient eventually left the hospital amid a huge “crying fest” as all the providers who had cared for him said their goodbyes, even though Velasquez couldn’t remember their faces, considering he was comatose at the time.
He eventually moved to the Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation in Manhasset on Long Island for five weeks of physical therapy. On Monday, the young man finally left the rehab facility to go home after 111 days of moving from one facility to the next.
As an immigrant from El Salvador, Velasquez sees his recovery as an extension of his faith. “I do believe it is a miracle,” Velasquez said through a translator. “I am truly grateful to all the doctors. If they didn’t do what they did, I would be dead. To recover from that? It’s a miracle.”
His story has brought so much hope and faith to those trying to recover from the virus. Velasquez may have been an extreme case, but it’s a reminder of how severe this virus can be. If some of your patients or their loved ones are starting to lose faith, remember that their condition could change at a moment’s notice if they have the will to survive.