“Life has a whole new meaning”: 10 inspiring COVID-19 patient stories

No two cases of COVID-19 seem to be the same. Some patients have short hospital stays while others battle for months on end, experiencing intubation and long periods away from family and friends. For HCA Healthcare colleagues, each and every unique patient recovery is a victory. And in a year filled with challenges, these moments of celebration, when hospital care teams were able to cheer on patients as they reunited with loved ones and headed home, were an inspiration for all of us.

As of December 2020, HCA Healthcare affiliate hospitals have cared for more than 80,000 COVID-19 inpatients. The fight is not over, but we take this moment to reflect on a few of our most memorable COVID-19 patient stories and celebrate their recovery. And thank you to all of our frontline colleagues for making these stories possible.

As avid dancer Travis Groves, 81, recovered from COVID-19 at TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, occupational therapist Meg Gegen decided to use dance to help him regain his strength. After the two started dancing the two step together, Travis went from not having enough energy to sit on the edge of his hospital bed to dancing through entire songs. When Travis was discharged, Meg came in on her day off for one final dance to Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.” Their moves even made it on Daily Mail TV.

See more of Travis’ story from Nashville’s WSMV.

Jason Jahanian was “the epitome of health,” his wife, Michelle, said in an interview with Colorado Public Radio. He had even recently run/walked 40 miles for his 40th birthday. But in April, he was hospitalized at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Colorado, with COVID-19. After a couple of days, he was put on a ventilator and eventually transferred to The Medical Center of Aurora, where doctors also placed him on ECMO. Later, doctors decided to try convalescent plasma and an experimental drug. Jason’s condition began to improve and he woke up after being unconscious for almost two weeks. Roughly a month after first being hospitalized, he was able to go home — but not before an emotional farewell with the hospital team.

“Life has a whole new meaning, walking outside has a whole new meaning, rolling down the window has a new meaning,” Jason said.

Hear more from Jason in this “Live with Kelly and Ryan” interview.

Four female caregivers wearing personal protective equipment standing behind a man in a wheel chair giving the thumbs up sign
COVID-19 patient Raul Perez celebrates recovery with members of his care team at Kendall Regional Medical Center in Miami, Florida.

Early in the pandemic, our healthcare heroes in Miami helped another local hero recover from coronavirus. Firefighter Raul Perez spent 11 days at Kendall Regional Medical Center after testing positive for COVID-19. When Raul began to feel the physical and mental effects of the virus, his fire family showed up to support him — even if from a distance. Raul’s coworkers from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue used the ladder on a firetruck to climb up and see Raul through his fourth-floor hospital window.

“To see them literally do that and for them to climb all the way to the top of that ladder just to see me, it’s hard to explain but it was the most heartwarming experience of my life,” Raul told NBC Miami.

Of the team at Kendall, Raul said, “They’re miracle workers. All the nurses, all the doctors did a great job there. The medications I was on helped tremendously and I owe them my life.”

Esther spent eight weeks fighting COVID-19 at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. When her caregivers noticed a decline in her health, they decided to create a TikTok video of themselves dancing to her favorite boy band, BTS. The video went viral and thousands of BTS fans from around the world sent messages of hope using the #EncourageEsther hashtag. After her care team started posting some of the messages in her room, Esther’s health took a turn for the better and she was eventually removed from life support. Hospital officials told KSAT she had “a spark in her eyes and glow in her heart they hadn’t seen from her in weeks.”

Watch Esther’s story on Facebook.

Woman wearing a face mask holding her three newborn babies
COVID-19 patient Maggie Sillero holds her triplets, Isabella, Nathaniel and Adriel at The Woman’s Hospital of Texas.

For mothers around the world, their birth experience looked very different than planned in 2020. That was certainly true for Maggie Sillero, who upon arriving at The Woman’s Hospital of Texas in Houston for her scheduled admission to the antepartum unit in May tested positive for COVID-19. She was 28 weeks pregnant with triplets. About a month later, she received two negative COVID tests, but learned that one of her baby’s cords was wrapped around her neck and Maggie would need to have an emergency C-section that day. With her husband also testing positive for coronavirus, Maggie was supported in person by her mother and the hospital’s incredible nurses as she welcomed Isabella, Nathaniel and Adriel into the world. All three babies were safe and healthy and continued to get stronger in the Level II NICU.

Meet Maggie and her babies in these articles and videos from Good Morning America, ABC News and CNN.

Woman wearing a face mask holding her newborn son
TriStar Centennial Medical Center patient Jessica Rowlett holds her newborn son, Rowdy.

COVID-19 patient Jessica Rowlett delivered her son via emergency C-section after she was placed on a ventilator at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Baby Rowdy was born at 33 weeks in mid-May and spent time in the NICU. After the delivery, Jessica had to be placed on an ECMO machine and did not see her son until a month after his birth. Registered nurse Mary Shea told Good Morning America that “it was pretty incredible to see all that she went through and how strong she was and how poised she was through the entire process.” Both Jessica and son Rowdy were able to go home on the same day, June 26.

A collage of photos of a COVID-19 survivor returning to the hospital to thank his care team
Wearing a “I Beat COVID-19” shirt, HCA Healthcare patient Shakell Avery returned to Menorah Medical Center to say thank you to his care team.

This summer, 24-year-old Shakell Avery battled coronavirus at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park, Kansas. He became so critically ill that he would need to be sedated and put on a ventilator in the ICU, and the hospital would eventually need to partner with sister facility Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, to transfuse him with convalescent plasma. Shakell was one of the first patients in the Kansas City area to receive convalescent plasma, which came from a recovered patient in New York. After 76 days, Shakell was able to go home, but he would soon return — wearing an “I Beat COVID-19” shirt — to say thank you to his care team.

“I was more than grateful,” Shakell told CNN. “I could have said ‘thank you’ an infinite amount of times, and it wouldn’t have matched the intensity of how grateful I was.”

Watch the reunion on The Kansas City Star.

One of the year’s most inspiring stories was that of Lloyd Falk, a 100-year-old World War II veteran who battled coronavirus for 58 days at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Sadly, Lloyd’s wife of 74 years passed away from the virus weeks before he was discharged. On that day, hospital caregivers lined the hallways and cheered Lloyd on while also honoring his late wife.

Read more about Lloyd from Fox News and watch this video from ABC News.

A collage of photos of a couple getting married outside a hospital with caregivers in attendance
COVID-19 survivor Henry Bell married his fiancé, Antionette Brown, at Orange Park Medical Center in November 2020.

When Henry Bell woke up after spending weeks sedated in the ICU at Orange Park Medical Center in Florida, there was only one thing he wanted to do: marry the love of his life, Antionette Brown. Neither of them wanted to wait any longer, so they decided to get married on Nov. 5 outside the hospital’s rehab center, surrounded by the doctors and nurses who had saved Henry’s life.

“There was no better place to get married,” Antionette told CNN. “The staff was wonderful. They had become my family and I wanted family there.”

Paola Castillo, 24, spent 79 days at Medical City North Hills in North Richland Hills, Texas. After a month in the ICU and on a ventilator, Paola had to relearn how to talk, swallow and walk. The hospital told CBS News she was close to death and called her a “miracle” patient. On day 67, Paola’s caregivers took her outside to feel the rain after so much time inside. Almost two weeks later, colleagues cheered for Paola as she left the hospital.

Learn more about Paola from CNN and watch her go home on Facebook.

At HCA Healthcare, we are driven by a single mission: Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life. As we embark on a new year, we thank our patients for the trust you have placed in us to fulfill our mission. We recognize the immense responsibility that comes with that trust.

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