Pedro Gonzalez had all the symptoms of COVID-19 on March 14th, one day after a nationwide emergency was declared, and on March 18th he admitted himself to Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus: the very first coronavirus patient to enter the hospital.
By Corey McDonald/Hudson County View
His condition quickly deteriorated and was soon in extreme respiratory distress. Two days later he was put on a ventilator: the first patient at the hospital to be intubated. His muscles atrophied and his body began deteriorating.
“We tried every single type of treatment with him … We tried everything,” HRH’s CEO and President Dr. Nizar Kifaieh said on a Zoom media call this morning, adding that they made the last resort decision to put him on a ventilator.
Pedro would remain intubated for 22 days, “which is unheard of,” Kifaieh added.
“A lot of the patients that are on vents for more than a week typically have very, very poor outcomes: we’ve seen that consistently here and around the country,” he added.
But then something miraculous happened: he made a full recovery. It was an unexpected development, considering that “an extremely high percentage” of patients suffering from the COVID-19 disease that are placed on ventilators eventually pass away,” Kifaieh said.
“We’re at a loss of words. We feel that his recovery was basically a miracle,” Pedro’s wife Victoria said on the call
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the country, and with the number of deaths nationwide surpassing 50,000, Gonzalez’s recovery has marked a shift for the hospital and brought a boost in morale to the hospital’s staff.
“During the time when we were seeing a lot of expirations, it was really important to have that win … it lifted the morale of the staff and showed us there’s a tremendous amount of potential for positive outcomes for patients, an that we shouldn’t give up,” Kifaieh recalled.
For the first time since the outbreak, the hospital is now discharging four times more patients than the hospital is taking in for COVID-19 since the outbreak hit the New York metropolitan area.
“We’ve been seeing a significant decline in the number of admissions and of the number of expirations … it’s almost unreal,” Kifaieh stated.
The next steps for the county will now involve “a lot more testing in a lot of different ways,” said Hudson County Deputy Administrator David Drumeler, including antibody testing in the long term and incorporating asymptomatic patients and those who don’t exhibit typical symptoms.
The Hudson County Regional Health Commission is now “interfacing with the governor’s office” to come up with a plan to ramp up this testing.
Meanwhile, the county will soon get guidance from the CDC on how to conduct antibody testing more broadly, which would give public health officials a better understanding of the virus’ spread.
“We’re trying to get ahead of that curve … to try and start doing asymptomatic testing,” noted Kifaieh.
But for now, the Hudson Regional Hospital can take solace in their “champion patient” Pedro Gonzalez, a 38-year-old Union City resident who works in New York City.
“We took a lot of pride in making sure that he got home safe with his family.”
Pedro remembers very little: being admitted, and then finally waking up — on Easter Sunday.
But today he gave thumbs up with a smile on his face.
“Faith took a big part of it, but I can say that we’re grateful that the hospital was always very positive,” his wife said.
Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_