Patient’s 47-Day COVID-19 Battle Included 20 Days of Inspiring Rehabilitation

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March 30, 2021


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Oscar Rodriguez came to Homestead Hospital on the seventh day of his COVID-19 infection with double pneumonia and collapsed lungs. He spent 27 days in the hospital’s intensive care unit connected to IVs, oxygen devices to help him breathe and bilateral chest tubes to drain the fluid in his lungs.

After the ICU team successfully treated what his pulmonary and critical care physician, Juan Lopetegui, M.D., called the “worst level of COVID-19 possible,” Mr. Rodriguez just wanted to go home to his wife and three daughters. His lungs had suffered severe trauma, however, and his recovery was far from over.

“When it was time for Mr. Rodriguez to be discharged from the hospital, it was laboring for him to take even a few steps with oxygen,” Stefanie Lugo, ARNP, explained. “I knew the road to recovery in his home environment would be more difficult than he anticipated. He needed physical and occupational therapy with close monitoring of his oxygen levels as well as medical care to oversee his diabetes management. I explained the benefits of Baptist Health Rehabilitation’s multimodal therapies and encouraged him to enter acute rehabilitation, assuring him it would be the most important step he could take for himself and his family.”

Mr. Rodriguez reluctantly agreed. “I was so happy to be discharged and wanted to go home, but I had lost all mobility and did not want to be a burden to my family,” he said. “Stefanie, along with other members of my medical team, convinced me that inpatient rehabilitation was a necessary next step in my recovery. And I’m so glad they did.” 

Mr. Rodriguez transitioned to Baptist Health Rehabilitation at Homestead Hospital, a 23-bed inpatient center for patients recovering from an acute or disabling injury or illness. He felt weak and could barely walk during his initial assessment with his lead physical therapist Mariam Almasi. “I thought to myself, ‘how am I going to do this?’ But Mariam reassured me that everything would be okay and I would be walking again very soon,” Mr. Rodriguez recalled. “She was so caring and so convincing, and I believed her. I put my faith in the therapy team – and in my own abilities.”

Ms. Almasi understood why Mr. Rodriguez felt overwhelmed and discouraged. “When Oscar came to our facility, simple movements resulted in him desaturating to oxygenation levels below 82 percent, which was very alarming,” she explained. “We focused on improving his strength, balance and cardiopulmonary tolerance. While monitoring his vitals and oxygenation levels, he progressed from seated exercises to standing exercises; balance tasks; and cardiovascular conditioning while walking outside and riding the Nu-Step bicycle machine.  Through his spirituality, familial support and hard work and determination, he made gains every day. We were all so proud of his progress.”

Mr. Rodriguez spent 20 days in rehabilitation working with Ms. Almasi, occupational therapist Wendy Reano, recreational therapist Arielle Deverson and other clinicians to regain his strength, independence and quality of life. “I am so grateful for their skill, empathy, kindness and patience during my treatment,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Since my family could not physically be there with me, the rehab team’s encouragement along with my positive attitude and faith were the keys to helping me get better. I was determined to show up mentally and physically every day and to focus on my progress, not what I could not do.”

Today, Mr. Rodriguez is walking, taking care of himself and enjoying the outdoors with his family. He knows he was lucky to survive his dangerous case of COVID-19 and focuses on his many blessings. “I don’t feel sorry for myself and I don’t dwell on the experience, although it’s surreal,” said Mr. Rodriguez. “I am truly a changed person.”

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