• July 19, 2022

Scars of COVID persist for sickest survivors, households

Freddy Fernandez holds his 8-month-old daughter, Mariana Friday, June 10, 2022, at their home in Carthage, Mo.  After contracting COVID-19 in August 2021, Fernandez spent months hooked up to a respirator and an ECMO machine before coming home in February 2022 to begin his long recovery from the disease.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Freddy Fernandez holds his 8-month-old daughter, Mariana Friday, June 10, 2022, at their residence in Carthage, Mo. After contracting COVID-19 in August 2021, Fernandez spent months hooked as much as a respirator and an ECMO machine earlier than coming residence in February 2022 to start his lengthy restoration from the illness. (AP Photograph/Charlie Riedel)


Freddy Fernandez virtually wasn’t right here, on his sofa in his Missouri residence, his child on his lap, gnawing on the heart beat oximeter that he makes use of to verify his oxygen ranges after a months-long bout with COVID-19.

The 41-year-old father of six spent 5 months hospitalized a four-hour drive away from the couple’s residence within the southwest Missouri city of Carthage on essentially the most intense life help obtainable. He practically died repeatedly and now he — like so many who survived COVID-19 hospitalizations — has returned residence modified.

Whereas greater than 1 million died of COVID throughout the US, many extra survived ICU stays which have left them with anxiousness, PTSD and a bunch of well being points. Analysis has proven that intensive remedy beginning within the ICU might help, but it surely was usually exhausting to supply as hospitals teemed with sufferers.

“There’s a human price that the affected person pays for ICU survivorship,” says Dr. Vinaya Sermadevi, who helped look after Freddy all through his keep at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. “It’s virtually like going to conflict and having the aftermath.”

Freddy’s reminiscences from these lengthy months are available snatches — moments the place he regained consciousness, hooked as much as machines to breathe for him, clinging to life. Typically he requested for his mom, who died of COVID-19 in September 2020.

He missed the start of his daughter and the primary 4 months of her life. He could by no means be capable of return to his development job. His different younger daughter is he’ll go away once more.

His companion Vanessa, 28, was nonetheless pregnant with Mariana final summer season when the delta variant struck. She acquired vaccinated at her obstetricians urging. Freddy too was warming as much as the concept of ​​the vaccine in late August, but it surely was too late. He had come down with COVID.

The native of Mexico Metropolis, who got here come to the US round 20 years in the past to work development, was so sick he ended up at a St. Louis, practically 270 miles away from his two younger daughters; Vanessa’s 10-year-old son, Miguel, who considers Freddy his father; and three different youngsters along with his ex-wife — 10-, 8- and 7-year-old boys.

It was a darkish interval when many individuals hoped the pandemic was ending, however the delta variant as soon as once more flooded the healthcare system. Filling shifts was a day by day battle, and loss of life was in every single place, recalled Dr. Sermadevi.

In some methods Freddy was fortunate. For all of the discuss of ventilator capability, what was in shortest provide through the delta surge was one thing referred to as ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. It’s used when a ventilator is not sufficient, pumping blood out of the physique, oxygenating it, after which returning it.

Mercy Hospital St. Louis solely had the tools and employees to care for 3 ECMO sufferers at a time. And on Sept. 3, Freddy grew to become considered one of them.

Vanessa delivered Mariana on Oct 13.

Far-off from her fiance, Vanessa logged into video calls with Freddy’s docs on the very day she introduced the new child residence. The information wasn’t good – Freddy was affected by infections and wasn’t recovering nicely.

A lung transplant, Sermadevi mentioned, gave the impression to be his most suitable choice, however was a protracted shot.

“And there’s a probability that Mariana would possibly develop up and not using a father,” Sermadevi remembers telling the household.

A number of the most essential keys to restoration in essential care aren’t medical. Visits from family members, together with bodily, occupational and speech therapists, have lengthy been proven to be a distinction maker for the sickest of sufferers.

COVID-19 upended these practices at many hospitals, as households had been saved away to maintain the virus from spreading.

Fears of an infection, plus brief staffing, additionally usually meant much less bodily remedy, confirmed to hurry restoration.

When Freddy’s household got here, it made all of the distinction.

His room was reworked, pictures of his household thumbtacked to the ceiling. Freddy’s household held his hand when he had respiratory misery, speaking him by means of it. He wanted much less sedation and ache remedy as a result of, Sermadevi mentioned, “they had been that for him.”

“We might simply hear such love on the bedside,” she mentioned.

As soon as he got here off the ECMO machine, Freddy began to get better. Together with his lungs slowly bettering, quickly he was up and attempting to stroll. Ultimately, lung transplant discuss was tabled.

By Feb. 9, he was heading residence, 167 days after he first arrived on the hospital in his hometown.

All Vanessa may assume was “lastly.” Freddy had by no means met his child. Nor had he seen any of his different youngsters. Their interactions had been restricted to Facetime and photos.

Melanii was shy, hugging him briefly together with older brother Miguel, earlier than clinging to her mom.

Vanessa kissed the infant after which laid him in Freddy’s arms. Now simply days away from turning 4 months outdated, Mariana smiled at him.

Freddy relied on a walker and a wheelchair at first. He could not sit or eat on his personal.

However now the wheelchair is deserted on the house’s again steps. He can stroll across the whole block, pulling a transportable oxygen canister behind him on a dolly. He is on the cusp of having the ability to carry his oxygen round in a backpack, which might give him extra freedom.

Vanessa is returning to work, life returning “again to regular a bit bit.”

They need to wait till Freddy will get higher to get married.

But they do not know how significantly better he’ll get — or how rapidly.

Such is the story of so many, who’re alive but perpetually modified, says Sermadevi, who has adopted his progress from afar. A number of the nurses even grew to become Fb mates with Vanessa.

“It is unhappy and completely happy on the identical time,” she acknowledges. “And that is very exhausting to reconcile.”