Man, 61, Makes Complete COVID-19 Recovery After 39 Days on a Ventilator
December 13, 2021
In late January 2021, Mauricio Borrero, 61, of Toms River, New Jersey, felt like he was coming down with a cold. He tested positive for COVID-19, but he wasn’t feeling too bad for the first few days. Mauricio thought it was just a mild case.
However, a few days later, Mauricio says his condition went suddenly downhill while working from home.
“I was having trouble hitting the keyboard, and I felt like I was in a tunnel,” says Mauricio, director of site operations at Naval Air Warfare Center in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Mauricio’s wife, Kellie, immediately took him to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
“I briefly remember being wheeled into Jersey Shore before I passed out,” says Mauricio, who spent the next 39 days unconscious and intubated in the ICU, fighting for his life.
A Partnership Between Family and Staff
During Mauricio’s ICU stay, he was under the care of pulmonologist Cornelius Gallagher, M.D. Mauricio received life support from a ventilator and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). He also received convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19, nutrition through a feeding tube, and other supportive care.
COVID-19 safety protocols prevented Kellie and the couple’s four children from visiting Mauricio in person. However, Kellie says she spoke with team members every day for updates on her husband’s condition.
“It was a partnership between Mauricio’s care team and me, and there was lots of back and forth,” says Kellie. “The team would even help us FaceTime so we could talk to Mauricio.”
On March 9, Mauricio’s family was relieved to hear that his condition had improved, and his care team took him off the ventilator.
“I remember opening my eyes to find my wife sitting on my left, and I tried to squeeze her hand,” says Mauricio. “I was in and out of consciousness for a few days, so it took until March 13 until I was really conscious.”
‘A Long Road Ahead’
After waking up, Mauricio quickly realized the toll COVID-19 and his resulting hospital stay took on his body.
“I couldn’t talk, get out of bed or even move,” says Mauricio, who describes himself as “fiercely independent.” “I was completely helpless, and I knew I had a long road ahead.”
After spending a few weeks in an acute care unit at Jersey Shore, Mauricio was transferred to inpatient rehabilitation at Hackensack Meridian Johnson Rehabilitation Institute at Ocean Medical Center (formerly known as Shore Rehabilitation Institute) on March 18. He began working with physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Richard Fernicola, M.D.
“When Mauricio came in, he still had a tracheostomy for artificial breathing and a gastric tube for feeding. His muscles were deconditioned, and he had trouble swallowing,” says Dr. Fernicola. “However, Mauricio was very ambitious, upbeat and motivated. He was young and a triathlete, so he was used to physical activity.”
Medical and Rehab Team Help Achieve Recovery Goals
Immediately after he arrived at Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, Mauricio set goals for himself, including completing everyday personal care tasks and walking without help.
With the support of his family and friends, Dr. Fernicola, and the rest of his care team — including physical therapist Patrick Welsh, who helped with walking, strength and movement; occupational therapist Ashley Conroy, who helped with self-care, balance and endurance; and speech and language pathologist Lisa Leonard, who helped with eating, breathing and speech — Mauricio was able to achieve all of his goals.
Dr. Fernicola also worked collaboratively with Dr. Gallagher to make a plan for removing Mauricio’s tracheostomy and feeding tubes when they were no longer needed, ensuring that he received the necessary wound care and nutrition support for healing.
Mauricio’s care team also consulted with a cardiologist and monitored his heart rate and oxygen levels to ensure that his body was ready for the tasks he was asking it to do.
“The staff told me I would be able to walk with a walker in 4-6 weeks,” says Mauricio, who did his physical and occupational therapy exercises in bed — sometimes at 3 a.m. when he couldn’t sleep. “I walked with a walker in eight days.”
“It was clear Mauricio wanted to be as functional as possible, and he used every opportunity to get stronger and met every goal in a timely fashion,” says Dr. Fernicola. “Rehab can be tough psychologically, but it was clear Mauricio wanted to bounce back.”
Continuing Progress at Home
Mauricio was discharged from inpatient rehabilitation after three weeks. He participated in outpatient rehabilitation for several more weeks and is now back to work, everyday activities and exercise — including cycling for 45 minutes a day, walking his dog, gardening, and making home repairs.
“When Mauricio was discharged, he was less winded, required no oxygen support, and had no tracheostomy tube or feeding tube,” says Dr. Fernicola. “Mauricio’s recovery is a great achievement.”
“I am so grateful to my family, friends, work colleagues, community and everyone who prayed for me, sent food, and helped with my recovery,” says Mauricio. “A recovery like mine isn’t possible without a lot of support and an outstanding care team.”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our Experts: Richard Fernicola, M.D. and Cornelius Gallagher, M.D.
- To make an appointment with Dr. Fernicola, Dr. Gallagher, or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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