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Recovered

Thousands of residents have recovered from COVID-19. These are some of their stories

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Thousands of residents have recovered from COVID-19. These are some of their stories

Thousands of community members have contracted the coronavirus and recovered from the disease during the last several months.

Some fought for their lives in the hospital, while others experienced minor illness or no symptoms at all. No one story is the same. These are just a few of them.

Dr. Daniel Dugi, 65, Cuero

Dr. Daniel Dugi is acutely aware of the risk he takes everyday by walking into work at the Cuero Regional Hospital.

“The tragedy is we’re exposed everyday,” said the family physician, who regularly showers and changes clothes at he and his wife’s unoccupied rent house before going home to her and their youngest daughter. At home, he has quarantined from his family for weeks at a time in a bunk-bed room on the backside of the house.

Dugi was exposed to patients with COVID-19 several times during the pandemic. He always wears a face mask, gloves and frequently a face shield, but said he still could not avoid becoming infected with the virus.

The symptoms started on a late Saturday morning in July. He had fatigue, body aches and a slight cough, he said. By Sunday morning, Dugi’s breathing was abnormally rapid, so he went to the emergency room in Cuero to get x-rays done that showed pneumonia developing in his right lung.

The six-bed COVID-19 unit at the Cuero Regional Hospital was full. He went home, planning to ride out the illness in self-isolation.

That night, however, he said he suffered a cytokine storm – an immune system response characterized by the body attacking its own cells and tissues rather than just fighting off the virus. His breath was short and abnormally rapid. A headache and gastrointestinal stress came on.

Dugi’s oxygen dropped. He called friends at DeTar Hospital Navarro and was admitted the next morning.

He spent the next week in the hospital, mostly in ICU, which he describes as a blur. Dugi had two infusions of an immunosuppressive drug used to block cytokine storms, along with multiple other medications, including Remdesivir.

From Tuesday on, Dugi said he started feeling exponentially better. He began writing down everything that “his heroes” were doing for him.

“I tried to remember and list everybody that I encountered and what they did because very rarely do they get recognition for what transpires and yet they go above and beyond,” he said. “The nurses that show up here or at DeTar are heroes; they bust their chops and are with the patients 24/7.”

Dugi’s bed neared a window that overlooked the parking lot. He said his wife and daughter drove to the parking lot everyday and talked to him over the phone.

“It was a touch of family twice a day when they would drive up,” Dugi said. “We could visit right across the window and that was so powerful –to feel like you had contact –because a lot of patients haven’t.”

Dugi never felt afraid while in the hospital, he said. His wife started prayer chains that stretched to other states and countries, and his faith remained steadfast.

“I mainly missed my family. I missed my friends. I missed being at work because for 40 plus years, I never had been tired and never missed a day, generally speaking,” he said. “But no, I was never afraid ... If you’re Christian and you know that you’re going to go to Heaven, there is nothing to fear about death because you know it’s a new beginning.”

Dugi was released from the hospital on a Monday and has since returned to work at the Cuero Regional Hospital.

“If I get another COVID patient that is really ill, I will quarantine and not allow my family to be in contact with me at all,” he said. “We modify the quarantine based on what is happening.”

Trina Hernandez, 51, Victoria

Trina Hernandez was already in self-isolation when she developed a cough, runny nose and fever. Her mother had tested positive for the coronavirus a week prior.

The 51-year-old resident went to an emergency room to get tested for COVID-19 and was sent home with oxygen. Her cough and breathing spiraled out of control that night.

“I couldn’t catch my breath,” she said. “I felt like little beads were exploding in my chest and my head was going to burst. I was literally crying to just die because I could not control my coughing, my breathing.

“It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever dealt with – worse than giving birth.”

One of Hernandez’s friends, who is a nurse, assessed her during a FaceTime call and told her to go to the hospital. She was admitted to Citizens Medical Center the next day because her oxygen levels were too low.

“It was kinda scary going in, like something out of a movie,” she said. “There are several layers, thick sheets of plastic and face shields and gowns.”

Hernandez spent four days in the hospital with COVID-19 and pneumonia during the last week in July. The nurses felt like family, she said.

“I can’t imagine working a 12-hour shift like that,” she said. “Yet they’re there with a smile, with care, with pride, with gentleness ... It makes me emotional because I thought I was going to be scared and alone, but they made me so at peace and so comfortable that I knew I was going to get better.”

During Hernandez’s second day in the hospital, she was told her mom had been admitted.

“I’m crying, crying and crying because I can’t be there for my mom,” she said. “One of the nurses actually came in to check on me ... She said, ‘Can I do anything for you? I will do anything you need me to do.’”

Hernandez was discharged from the hospital several days before her mother was released. Her mom had pneumonia in both lungs and blood clots in her lungs, but “is doing much, much” better, she said last Tuesday.

“She started virtual therapy yesterday. She is still exhausted, she still winded and coughing,” Hernandez said. “But you can tell she is so much better now because she is home.”

Hernandez has to take blood thinners to prevent clotting and oxygen to help with her breathing, she said, and recently found out that she had a partially collapsed lung that should eventually start functioning on its own.

She still runs out of breath easily and has to take frequent naps, but said she feels as if she is regaining her strength everyday.

Looking back, the past few weeks are still hard to make sense of, she said.

“This is never in a million years what I would have thought – that I would have gotten it and I was trying to be the most cautious person,” Hernandez said. “Most people are like, ‘Oh, it is just the flu, just the cold’, but it is probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever gone through in my life.”

Bryan Kurtz, 32, Port Lavaca

Bryan Kurtz realized he had COVID-19 in early July when he opened a cooler filled with rotting bait that he had forgotten to clean out. Instead of a foul stench, he smelled nothing at all.

“It is the middle of summer and you’ve got maggots and flies coming out of this ice chest and I couldn’t even smell dead bait,” he said.

Kurtz said he went to get tested that day, July 6, at the Twin Fountains Medical Clinic in Port Lavaca. Laboratories were inundated. More than two weeks passed before his positive test result came back, he said.

“I kind of freaked out a little bit, I’m not going to lie, so I asked if I could get tested again and got tested that day. Two days later it came back negative,” Kurtz said. “I didn’t know what to think ... Pretty much it had already ran its course that entire time.”

The only COVID-19 symptoms Kurtz said he experienced were a loss of smell and taste. Last Monday, he said both his sense of smell and taste had not fully returned.

“I can’t smell or taste anything right now, but every now and then I can,” he said. “I honestly don’t know what to think of all of this stuff. For me, it wasn’t that bad and didn’t seem easily spreadable.”

Kurtz stayed in his house with three other people who live there while waiting for his test results.

All of them tested negative for COVID-19, he said.

Linda Rivera, 58, Victoria

Linda Rivera doesn’t know how she got the coronavirus, but has a hunch her 24-year-old son’s outings played a role.

“The weekend that they opened the bars, he went out with some of his friends,” she said. “I’m not for sure, but he does live with us.”

Rivera’s throat was sore on the first day. On the second, her son developed a fever. She had a fever, sore throat, body aches and headaches by day three.

Rivera and her son tested positive for COVID-19 at the end of June. Her husband, who lives in the same household, never got sick, she said.

Rivera quarantined with her son for more than 14 days.

“I wasn’t fearful because I didn’t have the problems breathing and I didn’t feel like it was in my lungs,” she said. “If I would have had shortness of breath, I probably would have worried about being in the hospital.”

Rivera and her son got tested a second time, two weeks after they found out they were positive. She tested positive again and he tested negative, she said.

“I waited a little over a week and got tested a third time. That time it was negative,” Rivera said.

Rivera said she was not contacted by the Victoria County Public Health Department until she got her negative test result.

“It seems like they were very strict with checking in and making sure you were following directions and stuff, so that is why we were sort of surprised,” she said. “But I know they did have a big backlog of testing, so we figured that was the reason.”

Looking back, Rivera said she felt like her case was comparable to having the flu, “except it took longer to get back to normal.”

“I was lucky that I didn’t end up in the hospital because you do get sick and its important to listen to what they tell you to do and not take it lightly,” she said.

Tina Reeves, 53, Victoria

Not long after Tina Reeves went back to work at the Victoria College, she was sent home on a Thursday because an employee who worked in her building tested positive for the coronavirus.

Reeves does not know how or when she became infected. She said she started coughing on the Saturday after she left her office. By Monday, she felt exhausted.

“I could hardly move. It was a weird feeling, so I thought maybe I need to check my temperature and sure enough, I had a fever,” she said. “And then I was having chills and then I would get hot.”

Reeves went to DeTar On Demand on the following morning and got tested for COVID-19. By then, she said she was also experiencing nausea, shortness of breath and a loss of appetite.

The Victoria County Public Health Department called her two days later and told her she had the virus.

“They called me everyday to check up on me after that,” she said. “I didn’t require hospitalization, thank God. So it could have been worse, but I felt really, really bad.”

Reeves’ temperature fluctuated from really high to too low, so much so that she said she thought her thermometer might be broken. A few days after the public health department told her she could return to work on July 3, the left side of her chin, gums and bottom teeth went numb.

Her doctor told her to get an MRI in case she had a blood clot, but the scan came back clear, she said. The numbness gradually went away during the course of a month.

“That concerns me, knowing what the virus did, because I wonder if it did something else inside of me that I haven’t noticed yet,” she said. “That is why I am very scared now ... I really don’t want to get it again and I really don’t want it to be worse than the first time.”

Reeves joined Facebook groups of people who’ve also recovered from the disease. She hasn’t been to a restaurant since she got sick and avoids going anywhere she doesn’t have to. While out in public, she continues to wear a mask and sanitize her hands often.

Reeves has an appointment to donate her convalescent plasma on Monday in hopes of helping someone else.

“I’m a big chicken, I don’t even give blood,” she said. “But I thought I better do this because somebody’s parent or grandparent or somebody is going to die if I don’t, so I can at least try to help save them or give them a fighting chance.

“I would hope somebody would help me if I need it, in fact, I feel like asking them, “Do you mind putting a little bit of my stuff in the freezer just in case I need it down the road?”

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Kali Venable is an investigative and environmental reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6558 or at kvenable@vicad.com.

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Investigative & Environmental Reporter

I was born and raised in Houston, but spent many summers and weekends in the Crossroads while growing up. I studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, and feel lucky to cover a region I love dearly.

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