MANHASSET, NY – After 111 days of hospitalization and cheating death multiple times during a brave bout with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Tito Velasquez, of Valley Stream, understands why he’s earned the title of “miracle patient.”
While members of the medical staff from each of the Northwell Health facilities that provided his treatment applauded his release from Northwell’s Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation today, Mr. Velasquez, 36, and his family joyfully celebrated his triumphant return home.
“I feel really grateful,” said Mr. Velasquez said through an interpreter, adding that he was going to continue his life after treatment “one day at a time, whatever God brings.”Mr. Velasquez’ long journey to recovery began when he was admitted to the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital (LIJVS) on April 28th with a dangerously low oxygen saturation level of 11 percent. He was placed on a ventilator, the first effort to save his life before a tragic chain of life-threatening events began to unfold.
“Usually after a patient is put on a ventilator, his oxidation will go up to 100 percent,” said Jason Yan, MD, emergency physician at LIJVS. “But Mr. Velasquez’ oxygenation only went up to 60 percent. We realized that this was a COVID patient who had also suffered a stroke.”
After a CT scan revealed the presence of a blood clot in his brain, Dr. Yan treated the condition with clot-buster medications.
During this time, Dr. Kiki .Poumpouridis, MD, an interventional cardiologist at LIJVS working with the ICU team, noted, “Mr. Velasquez’body was unable to oxygenate properly, and he was rapidly declining.”
Doctors decided to use an ECMO machine to assist the patient’s recovery. ECMO technology uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung in order to oxygenate the blood and give the organs rest to recover.
The ECMO-TO-GO team from North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) was deployed and Dr. Harold Fernandez, a cardiothoracic surgeon from that hospital placed Mr. Velasquez on the ECMO machine at LIJVS. Almost immediately, his oxygenation level rose to 100 percent.
Mr. Velasquez was then transferred to Long Island Jewish Medical Center (LIJMC), where he spent one month on ECMO and remained on a ventilator. There, he survived several more near-death episodes, including another stroke and a collapsed lung.
Mr. Velasquez, still dependent on a ventilator and paralyzed on his left side, was transported to Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York, to begin rehabilitation in the Acute Ventilator Recovery Unit (AVRU) on June 9th. It was there that he was gradually weaned off the ventilator and built the strength to breathe on his own. Not long after, he regained the ability to eat and walk unassisted.
“Tito has had a tremendous journey,” said Dr. Richard Stumacher, chief of pulmonology and critical care at Northern Westchester, who oversaw Mr. Velasquez’ care. “He never gave up, mentally or emotionally. When I saw him stand up and take those first few steps and walk down the hallway, it was incredible.”
On July 10th, Mr. Velasquez was transferred to the Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation, where he completed his recovery.
“Seeing Mr. Velasquez walk out of Stern today on his own was probably one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” said Dr. Poumpouridis. “He came in very sick and the chances of him walking out with any kind of function was so low that to see him walk out, fully recovered, made me cry.”
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Northwell Health is New York State’s largest health care provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, nearly 800 outpatient facilities and more than 14,200 affiliated physicians. We care for over two million people annually in the New York metro area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 72,000 employees – 17,000-plus nurses and 4,500 employed doctors, including members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We’re making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. We’re training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Hofstra Northwell School of Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit Northwell.edu and follow us @NorthwellHealth on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.