About 80 health care workers gathered in the atrium of UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies on Saturday and cheered and applauded as COVID-19 survivor Sergio Rodriguez, 58, got to leave after 16 days at the Loveland hospital.
Prior to being transferred to the Medical Center of the Rockies on April 2, Rodriguez spent nearly a week from March 27 until April 2 at UCHealth Greeley Hospital.
Rodriguez is one of hundreds of COVID-19 patients who have recovered well enough to be released in recent days from UCHealth hospitals.
Rodriguez’ nurses rolled him outside of the hospital’s main entrance, where his wife, children, grandchildren and other family members greeted him with hugs, tears, balloons and signs that read, “Welcome Home Grandpa” and “Thank you Doctors and Nurses.”
“I thank God and the doctors and nurses,” Rodriguez said after getting into the car with his wife, Yolanda Rodriguez.
“It’s a miracle,” Yolanda said of her husband’s recovery. “It was all that praying.”
Rodriguez’ son, Rafael Hernandez, had been keeping a vigil in the parking lot outside the hospital since April 2, praying day and night for his dad’s recovery and often sleeping in his car so his dad would know he was nearby.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the extremely contagious virus, no family members are allowed in hospitals.
On Saturday, Hernandez’ prayers were answered and his dad got to return to his home in Greeley. The moment his dad emerged from the hospital, Hernandez rushed to his wheel chair, knelt to the ground and hugged him.
“This is just the best time of my life. I’m able to look him in the eyes and embrace him,” Hernandez said.
His father will need time to recover, but has improved dramatically since getting off of a ventilator earlier this week.
Connor Murphy is one of the nurses who cared for Rodriguez while he was in the Loveland hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit. He said many patients with COVID-19 need a great deal of time on the ventilator.
“It takes time to work. The (virus) is a big shock to the body. It’s great when we can get someone extubated (removed from a ventilator). It’s always a big sigh of relief,” Murphy said.
Once Rodriguez was able to get off the ventilator, he moved to a different unit where he could look out of the window from his room and see his son praying, singing and playing music from the parking lot.
Before being discharged on Saturday, Rodriguez waved to his family members from inside his room and told members of his care team how excited he was to leave.
Krista Liley is an occupational therapist who worked with Rodriguez on Saturday before his departure.
“He had a huge smile on his face. I told him he was my best rock star because he progressed faster than anyone I have seen,” Liley said.
Rodriguez was on a mission to reunite with his family members and return home.
In a hushed voice before he left the hospital, Rodriguez said he’s looking forward to resting and returning someday to his church so he can give thanks to God for his survival.
Rodriguez is a worker at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, which has been shut down after dozens of workers tested positive for COVID-19. Rodriguez initially felt sick around March 20, his family members said. He had a high fever and stayed home as he tried to recover. But, he wasn’t getting better and his wife, Yolanda, eventually took him to the ER at UCHealth Greeley Hospital on March 27. He was hospitalized there until he needed to go on a ventilator. There was more space at Medical Center of the Rockies than at the Greeley hospital, so Rodriguez was transferred to the Loveland hospital on April 2.
More than 460 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 infections have already recovered and been able to leave UCHealth hospitals throughout Colorado. This includes about 240 in metro Denver, 65 in southern Colorado and 160 in northern Colorado.
Shortly after Rodriguez got to leave the Medical Center of the Rockies at about 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flew over the hospital at about 1:30 p.m. as members of Rodriguez’ family and nurses gathered outside to watch. The Thunderbirds were honoring essential first responders and health workers throughout the state, but for Rodriguez’ family, the timing of the flyover was especially poignant. The flyover capped a very special morning.
“I’m so glad to have him home,” Yolanda Rodriguez said. “He’s been calling me all morning. He’s been so excited.”
UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. UCHealth includes more than 25,000 employees, 12 acute-care hospitals and hundreds of physicians across Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska. With University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus as its academic anchor and the only adult academic medical center in the region, UCHealth is dedicated to providing unmatched patient care in the Rocky Mountain West. Offering more than 150 clinic locations, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.