Juan Montano Matamoros was discharged from Health Central Hospital June 5 after battling a severe case of COVID-19 for more than a month.
The combination of suspense and excitement in the lobby of Orlando Health’s Health Central Hospital Friday, June 5, was nearly intoxicating.
Donning masks and holding signs and balloons, Juan Montano Matamoros’ family members were joined by dozens of hospital staff members as they waited for him to emerge.
“Thank you, nurses!” “Te quiero mucho, papa.” “Papa, tu eres tan fuerte como un superheroe” — translated, “Papa, you are as strong as a superhero.”
The moment Montano Matamoros emerged from the elevator in a wheelchair, the cheers erupted. Tears in his eyes, he lifted his arms in victory. His children crowded around him — his oldest daughter sobbing tears of joy into her father’s shoulder.
The fanfare was well-deserved. After all, Montano Matamoros had emerged victorious over a severe case of COVID-19.
BAD TO WORSE
Montano Matamoros faced a grim outcome upon his admission to Ocoee’s Health Central Hospital in April. Despite being just 41 years old, generally healthy and not having a significant past medical history, he was about to enter an uphill battle in the fight for his life.
Dr. Herman Gaztambide, a physician who specializes in pulmonary critical care, said the coronavirus defies logic.
“They say, ‘Oh, they’re old or they’re sick, or they had things already to begin with,’ but in his case, we didn’t see any of that,” Gaztambide said. “And he’s that scary case ... you really get concerned, because you really don’t want to see someone that young not make it.”
Gaztambide said Montano Matamoros arrived at the peak of COVID-19. He was a textbook case, having arrived in the emergency department and testing positive for the virus. But he was breathing room air, and he was able to return home to self-isolate.
On the last day of his self-isolation, though, things took a turn for the worse. He began experiencing acute shortness of breath and returned to the hospital, where he was met by Gaztambide.
“We had a really good, frank heart-to-heart,” Gaztambide said. “We spoke, and I told him that we might have to put him on life support, so I was the one that intubated him. He came in overnight. … And by mid-morning, I was already putting him on life support.”
Over the next couple of weeks, Montano Matamoros received every treatment available. He was given Tocilizumab, Remdesivir, convalescent plasma, prone ventilation, hydroxychloroquine, zinc, Vitamin C and azithromycin. Initially, Gaztambide said, he wasn’t responding as his team had hoped. At times, the waiting was the hardest part.
“If you ask me humbly which of them worked, I think it’s a combination,” Gaztambide said. “I think earlier intervention seems to be the right way. … I think the most difficult thing for families is not being there. For safety reasons across the nation, we’re not allowing visitors in the COVID unit, so that’s really playing a big role in the fact that you’re not there with your loved one.
“It makes the conversation more difficult as far as making goals of care or deciding long term, because you haven’t seen them,” he said. “You don’t have that human touch. We cannot lose the humanity in medicine, and specifically now in these very dark times. There’s not that magic pill — we haven’t found it — so we’re really just trying to do all that we can for them.”
Luckily, the efforts of Montano Matamoros’ team paid off. After being on the ventilator for about 26 days, he was extubated. And on June 5 — one-and-a-half months after his admission — he was discharged.
ALL WORTH IT
Gaztambide said watching Montano Matamoros interact with his family and express himself was another big victory. Sometimes, he said, patients whose bodies have been ravished by pulmonary issues end up with some brain damage due to decreased oxygen levels.
“There’s a concern in the back of the mind of, ‘Are we fighting this fight just to find out at the end that we’re dealing with brain damage?’” Gaztambide said. “So having someone just return to family and recognize their kids, that’s the reason we do it. … When I intubate you with COVID, I have to sedate you quite heavily, so I really don’t have a way of knowing if you’re having damages. So we’re just praying and every day going with what we feel is best for you, and we hope for the best.”
Montano Matamoros’ discharge also was a rare occasion for Gaztambide — who, as a critical-care physician, rarely gets to see his patients recover and head home.
“It’s really good to see the full-circle,” he said. “As a physician in over 10 years of practice, this is maybe the third time I’ve seen one of my own patients being discharged. At the end, we’re just really happy he’s going home. Many others like him did not make it, and I think we honor their passing by also honoring the ones that do make it and really celebrating those small moments, because they don’t come (often). … It just makes all the effort worthwhile.”