Surviving COVID-19 and a Ventilator | Whittier, CA | PIH Health

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Surviving COVID-19 and a Ventilator

Photo of Ignacio as he recovers from COVID-19

Ignacio "Nacho" Avila

Spending time at home as he recovers from COVID-19 and undergoes physical therapy.

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 6 million people across nearly 200 countries, including tens of thousands in Southern California. Ignacio “Nacho” Avila, a 47-year-old Whittier resident, was among those affected. He was also one of the more than 98 percent of those impacted by the virus who, despite a harrowing experience, survived. In July 2020, Nacho lost consciousness during a nap. When his family couldn’t wake him, they called 911 and Nacho was rushed to PIH Health Whittier Hospital where he tested positive for COVID-19 and was immediately admitted to the Critical Care Unit. For the next four weeks, Nacho was in a coma and on a ventilator, a machine that forced oxygen-rich air into his fluid-filled lungs. This was distressing for his family, since about half of coronavirus patients on ventilators die. Due to Nacho’s weight (about 515 pounds at the time) and prolonged time in bed, he developed a large and serious bed sore that wouldn’t heal. COVID-19 patients often get blood clotting problems that decrease blood flow and hinder healing.

Fortunately, Nacho came out of his coma and was released from Critical Care, but he was paralyzed on the left side of his body. He spent the next three months in the Acute Rehabilitation Center, where physical therapy, occupational therapy and wound care teams worked with him every day. He also lost 120 pounds. “Considering Nacho’s multiple factors, he is very lucky to be alive,” said Ali Hafezi MD. “Many people wouldn’t have survived, let alone walk again. Nacho’s survival is phenomenal.” Nacho went home just before Christmas and PIH Health Home Health Services continued his therapy at home. While Nacho is still working toward a full recovery, he can walk about 60 yards and looks forward to the day when he can resume work at his family’s restaurant in Uptown Whittier.

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