A year and a half since Mario Castillo was taken off a ventilator at Humber River Hospital after spending nine weeks intubated, fighting COVID-19, he returned to thank the medical team that saved his life.
“Want to say thank you for everybody taking care of me … thank you for everything,” he said.
Seeing Castillo healthy is a huge morale boost for the front-line health-care workers who cared for him during the first wave of the pandemic.
“The team is overwhelmed. I have a nurse that stayed overnight just to see Mario. She took care of him and hearing Mario speak today, I had goosebumps,” said Cecile Marville-Williams, program director with responsibility for critical care, cardiology, respiratory and oncology.
Marville-Williams lost her mother to COVID-19, so seeing Castillo thriving is even more meaningful.
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“To see him today walking, talking, to be able to come back and give back to us by sharing his experience just made me feel very overwhelmed,” she said.
Castillo was the first COVID-19 patient to be intubated in the intensive care unit at Humber River Hospital.
In late March of 2020, the mechanic went to the emergency room after leaving work early one day with a fever and runny nose and spending a week sick in bed.
Within hours of arriving in hospital, Castillo’s symptoms worsened.
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“I saw him the first time that he came with shortness of breath and we had a flood of patients with COVID. So everyone that came with shortness of breath and low oxygen saturations was most likely a COVID patient,” recalled Flor Guevara, respiratory therapist.
The next day, Guevara said Castillo had been moved to the ICU from the emergency department.
“I remembered that I had a Spanish background and I said, ‘I need to talk to him.’ So I went inside and I spoke to him and I explained to him, ‘We need to give you a medication to put you into sleep’ and then he said, ‘How long I’m going to be down?’ and I said, ‘We don’t know’,” she said.
Seeing Castillo all these months later was emotional for Guevara, who called his recovery “a miracle.”
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Critical care physician Dr. Keren Mandelzweig was part of the medical team that performed the intubation on Castillo.
“Really what stands out to me is all the preparation that went into preparing to perform the intubation, all the new protocols that had to be put in place, the whole team coming together to learn how to do everything in a different way to keep, of course, the patients safe, but also everyone safe,” she recalled.
Mandelzweig said she remembers feeling worried about Castillo.
“We didn’t know that much about the disease and we didn’t know what his outcome was going to be. I remember just basically a lot of unknowns,” she said.
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Seeing Castillo after all this time was thrilling for Mandelzweig.
“It almost took my breath away,” she said.
Castillo is planning to return to work soon. He has not yet fully recovered but can walk again and has regained strength in his hands.
He said he will also visit St. John’s Rehab at Sunnybrook Hospital one day soon to thank the team there.
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