HCA Healthcare patients: seven stories of resilience from COVID-19 survivors

Michelle L

On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

In the two years since the World Health Organization officially acknowledged COVID-19 as a global pandemic, HCA Healthcare has treated more COVID-19 patients than any health system in the United States. In 2021 alone, we treated 160,000 COVID-19 inpatients and over 271,000 total from February 2020 to December 2021.

For our colleagues, each and every unique patient recovery is a victory. In two years filled with unfathomable challenges, moments of celebration, when hospital care teams were able to cheer on patients as they reunited with loved ones and headed home, were an inspiration for all of us.

As we reflect on the two-year pandemic anniversary, we celebrate a few of our most inspiring COVID-19 patient stories. Thank you to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technicians and all those in supporting roles who continue to show up to make these stories possible.

Hugo (StoneSprings Hospital Center, Virginia)

Watch Hugo’s emotional thank you message on HCA Healthcare’s social media channels.

HCA Healthcare patient Hugo Cabello was discharged from StoneSprings Hospital Center in Dulles, Virginia earlier this week after fighting COVID-19 for more than 40 days.

Before leaving the hospital, the husband and father of two took a few moments to thank the HCA Healthcare caregivers who were by his side during the most vulnerable moments in his life.

“I cannot thank you all for everything you have done for me,” Hugo said to his care team through tears. “I would not be here today if it were not for your dedication, your caring and your professionalism. I won’t forget your names. You are good people. I love each and every one of you and I will see you under different circumstances in the future.”

“Hugo and I had a special connection,” said HCA Healthcare colleague Amy Threadgill, a respiratory therapist at StoneSprings Hospital Center. “As his respiratory therapist, I helped him with breathing issues. But as a caregiver, I made time for him, even if it was just sitting with him and holding his hand to help ease his mind.”

Hugo’s wife, Kristin, shared her appreciation for his caregivers, “You gave us back our most favorite person in the world. The kids got their daddy back.”

Michelle (St. Mark’s Hospital, Utah)

This past winter, Michelle Liechty was admitted with breathing issues to HCA Healthcare’s St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was diagnosed with COVID-19, which eventually led to respiratory failure.

Michelle’s caregivers did not give up. They fought for her during her 70-day hospital stay, which included 41 days in the intensive care unit (ICU).

“Her heart stopped, and the week after that she had a mucus plug, which she kept fighting and they kept fighting for her,” Michelle’s daughter, Mariah Liechty told Fox 13. “They hands down saved her life three specific times on top of her single organ failure.”

While her road to recovery was far from easy, Michelle eventually got to a point where she started to improve. “I really didn’t think I would be able to walk, at least not as soon as I did,” said Michelle. “They told me that with my help, I’ve succeeded and exceeded all of their expectations.”

Michelle was honored with a “clap out” ceremony when she was well enough to go home to her family. Most of the caregivers in attendance wore shirts that read “Michelle’s Angels” on the front – with the names of the more than 100 caregivers who helped her beat COVID-19 on the back.

A patient hugging a physician in the hospital
St. Mark’s Hospital patient Michelle Liechty thanked her caregivers as she was discharged to go home.

Dr. Jared Johnstun, Michelle’s pulmonary and critical care doctor, was glad to see this day come. “To say that Michelle is a miracle is an understatement. She is by far the sickest person that I’ve seen do the best,” said Dr. Johnstun.

“She’s the reason that we fight, and the reason why…we’ve tried so hard. And to have someone do as well as she has, made all those nights and all those days and all that hardship worth it.”

Dr. Jared Johnstun

While leaving the hospital, Michelle had a final message of appreciation to everyone at St. Mark’s Hospital: “I just want to say thank you for that opportunity to live and be here today.”

Yolian (HCA Florida UCF Lake Nona Medical Center, Florida)

A woman in a hospital bed giving a thumbs up sign
Yolian, a COVID-19 survivor and HCA Florida UCF Lake Nona Medical Center Patient

Yolian’s story of survival touched caregivers at HCA Florida UCF Lake Nona Hospital in profound ways.

After suffering from severe symptoms including shortness of breath, Yolian went to the Orlando-based hospital. She had COVID-19 pneumonia and would spend the next 129 days at the hospital.

At the beginning of her battle, Yolian found hope by sharing stories with her caregivers about her three-year-old daughter, husband and supportive family and friends. Her declining health eventually required a transfer to the intensive care unit, sedation and intubation. Through expert clinical care and compassion, Yolian’s care team rallied around her so that she could one day reunite with her loved ones. Slowly, Yolian began to wake up and regain her strength.

A woman in the hospital getting her hair brushed by a caregiver.
Watch Yolian’s hospital sendoff on HCA Healthcare’s Facebook page.

“She started to communicate with us more, and I think the real turning point was the first day she was out of bed,” said Samantha Lombardi, rehabilitation manager at UCF Lake Nona Medical Center. “I remember her husband while Facetiming with her that day, and his reaction was priceless.”

“Yoli continued to work with the care team – respiratory therapy, rehab, nursing, doctors, case management and her family,” adds Samantha. “With time, words of inspiration, prayer and tears, I knew Yoli had made progress when she once again was able to share images of her family and daughter.”

Before Yolian was discharged home in January 2022, her care team helped to brush her hair and get her ready to reunite with family.

Reflecting on her hospital journey, Yolian says, “They went above and beyond from taking care of me with medicine and adding the best medicine, which is love. I felt that. I found a family there, and I am very grateful for all the staff. You guys rock, thank you and I love you all!”

Jason (The Medical Cener of Aurora, Colorado)  

A man being wheeled out of the hospital
Watch Jason’s transfer to continue his recovery at affiliate Spalding Rehabilitation Center on HCA Healthcare’s Facebook page.

Jason Strong embodied the meaning of his last name during his battle with COVID-19 this past year, spending nearly three months at HCA Healthcare’s Medical Center of Aurora in Colorado.

The Delta variant took Jason from a healthy, 260-pound 39-year-old who worked out twice a day – to having only a two percent chance of survival. But, with the help of highly-skilled medical care and the compassion of his HCA Healthcare caregivers, Jason regained consciousness right before his fortieth birthday.

The Strong family was elated to see Jason’s health improve and was filled with gratitude for his caregivers. “The thought every day I could lose him, it’s the worst feeling in the world,” said his mom, Deborah. “They never gave up on him.”

After Jason was admitted to the hospital in September 2021, he was soon put on a ventilator. “He was very, very sick. Close to death,” said Dr. Chakraehar Kotaru, pulmonologist and critical care physician.

After a week on a ventilator, doctors placed Jason on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine. It was two months before Jason regained consciousness.

Jason was unvaccinated when he contracted the virus but is encouraging others to roll up their sleeves after his battle in the hospital. “It’s not that I was against it, just I was procrastinating. I was busy working, going to the gym,” said Jason. “Take the 20 minutes and get your vaccination because you don’t want to go through what I went through.”

In March of 2022, Jason returned to The Medical Center of Aurora for a visit. The 40-year-old COVID-19 survivor and his family were thrilled to catch up with the caregivers who had become family during his 85-day hospital stay.

Jason Strong (in Michigan sweatshirt) reunited in March 2022 with The Medical Center of Aurora ICU staff who helped him beat COVID-19 in 2021.

Rachel (HCA Florida North Florida Hospital, Florida)

HCA Healthcare patient Rachel Watson’s battle with COVID-19 began in July 2021. The 38-year-old was transferred to HCA Florida North Florida Hospital to receive ECMO support due to the toll the virus was taking on her body. “I had heard that COVID affected respiratory, but at my age, I did not think I was at risk for what I went through,” Rachel said.

The ECMO machine pumped and oxygenated Rachel’s blood for 89 days with trained specialists monitoring her around the clock. This was the longest any patient had received ECMO support at the Gainesville, Florida hospital.

After nearly three months, Rachel was taken off ECMO and credited her care team and the highly advanced artificial life-support system for saving her life.

“Without ECMO, I probably would not be alive,” said Rachel. “I would not have made it. I would not be here for my husband. I would not be here for my family. I owe this hospital everything. I owe them my life.”

When it was time for Rachel to leave the hospital, her caregivers lined the hallways to say goodbye in a celebratory fashion. Some had signs that read “You’re a superstar” and some wore shirts that said “Team Watson.” But everyone was equipped with a smile behind their masks as they bid their strong patient a cheerful farewell.

Watch HCA Florida North Florida Regional Medical Center colleagues say goodbye to Rachel on HCA Florida Healthcare’s Facebook page.

Melissa (St. David’s Georgetown Hospital, Texas)

Melissa credits the compassionate and skilled healthcare workers at HCA Healthcare affiliate St. David’s Georgetown Hospital for giving her a second chance at life.

Learn more about Melissa’s battle with COVID-19 on HCA Healthcare’s Facebook channel.

After experiencing excruciating headaches and body aches, Melissa went to the Texas-based hospital and was admitted with COVID-19. “I remember pulling in to the ER and the nurses coming out,” Melissa recalls. “They both looked at me, and they knew, without us even having to say anything, what was wrong. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

Melissa’s life-saving care included mechanical ventilation. “Something that stuck with me from the day that I woke up off the ventilator was that I wish everyone could have received this kind of care. It was the most sensitive, kind and patient care that I’ve ever had in my life,” said Melissa.

“I never knew the time that [healthcare workers] put in away from their families, their children and their loved ones to come take care of other people and save lives,” adds Melissa.

Vanessa (Rio Grande Regional Hospital, Texas)

The wish to hug her children and husband again was a guiding light for HCA Healthcare patient Vanessa Mata who spent nearly 100 days fighting COVID-19 at Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen, Texas.

Vanessa was admitted to the hospital after experiencing shortness of breath in August 2021. She was placed on life support after her health took a turn for the worse, slowly improving after months of extensive medical treatment and care.

As she regained her strength, Vanessa was able to sit up once again and talk with family for the first time in months via FaceTime. The soon-to-be 31-year-old then shared her birthday wish of seeing her children with her care team. They rallied together to get the necessary approvals and planned a small birthday party to include cupcakes, party hats and, more importantly, her two children. This moment meant the world not only to Vanessa but to her children as well.

Watch the moment Vanessa reunited with her kids for her birthday on Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s Facebook page.

“I’m so thankful to everyone at the hospital who motivated me every day to never stop fighting,” said Vanessa. “I knew I had to get better because I wanted to go home to be with my children and my husband.”

Vanessa was able to leave the hospital in November, but not without a proper send-off from colleagues at Rio Grande Regional Hospital who have been there helping her fight the virus. Hospital staff lined the hallways, offering high-fives and hugs as she was wheeled out to reunite with her family.

Watch Vanessa say goodbye to the caregivers who helped her beat COVID-19 on Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s Facebook page.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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