ORANGE PARK – As retired physicians, Fernando and Maria Vizcarrando felt helpless watching their son ebb closer to death with each labored breath.
His body was ravaged by COVID-19. His kidneys shut down, forcing him into dialysis. His heart stopped eight times, prompting doctors to shock it back into rhythm and perform surgery to correct the arrhythmia caused by the virus. His toes were infected with gangrene. He was in a coma for nearly three weeks.
But their son, Fernando, not only woke up, he gingerly walked out of Orange Park Medical Center Tuesday morning and into the arms of a loving family that never left his side.
“My son is a very strong man,” the father said.
It took 55 days for Vizcarrando to beat the novel coronavirus. Much of that time was spent in the Intensive Care Unit, where he was shielded from the hugs of his wife, Ana, three boys, Fabian, Adrian and Carlos, and his parents.
“He was very, very ill,” his mother said shortly before her son emerged through the glass doors of the hospital’s rehabilitation center. “Not too many people survive this. There were many, many times we didn’t think he was going to make it.
“It was hard because there wasn’t anything we could do. It was heartbreaking to be a physician and not be able to do anything.”
The son retired from the U.S. Navy and was a pilot for Boomerang Air Charter. He flew to the Bahamas, Pensacola and Orlando in early March. Shortly after getting home to Fleming Island, he developed a cough.
“I was getting all the things – shortness of breath, a fever, a cough,” Vizcarrando said. “I woke my wife up in the middle of the night and told her I needed to get to the ER. It’s a good thing I did.”
That was March 22.
After hearing the symptoms, the parents feared the worse.
“We had no idea what was wrong, but when he told us how he felt, we thought it was [COVID-19],” the father said. “One day we were all at the beach. Then he was in the hospital.”
Vizcarrando made a slow exit from the rehab department. The hallway was lined with employees who cheered every step. When he got outside, he gave a thumbs-up, pumped his fist three times before his 13-year-old son Danny broke free and hugged his father. The rest of the family quickly joined in. And they cried.
“It made the strongest man shed tears,” Vizcarrando said.
Moments later, he was on his way home.
“After 55 days, he didn’t know what to do when he got home,” Ana said. “He turned on the TV and just looked around like everything was all new. It’s been such a tough road.”
And for the first time in weeks, Vizcarrando took a nap.
“When you’re in the hospital, there’s no time to rest with all the nurses coming in,” he said.
Vizcarrando lost 40 pounds and 40% of his body mass. There still are a lot of miles ahead on the road to recovery.
“I want to keep working on my body,” he said. “I need to get stronger.”
His first meal after leaving Orange Park Medical Center was chicken, pasta and salad. More importantly, he enjoyed it with his family.
“My kids have been deprived of their daddy,” he said. “I just want to spend time with them. They’ve been so good to me. It’s been hard on everyone. I could never imagine my kids being like this.”