Almost two months from the day she left her home on Long Island, Zoila Laserna, a mother of two from Long Island, walked out of a hospital in Kentucky, holding her husband's hand.
Laserna had gone to Kentucky March 11 to visit with her brother. While Diego, her husband of 23 years, remained at their home in New York. It was the last time they would be together in the same room until today.
"She started to feel fatigue and she just chalked it up to a bad cold because she would feel better the next day, then feel worse," Diego said of Zoila's first symptoms of the coronavirus. "When it started to get worse was when she had shortness of breath."
The mother of two was admitted on March 22 and by the next day she was on a ventilator in the ICU. Laserna was one of the first two patients to receive convalescent plasma therapy, a treatment that uses plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient that contains antibodies. Throughout her stay, treatments have included plasma therapy, a RotoProne bed to improve oxygenation, and dialysis.
For seven weeks a dedicated team of Baptist Health physicians, nurses, therapists, and other medical professionals cared for her. Laserna grew close to the staff during her stay and says that she would not be alive today if it were not for their dedication. "Service to others is the rent you pay for your space here on Earth," she said of the healthcare workers. "They did such a wonderful job. I am so grateful."
This whole time, Diego was more than 700 miles away at their home in Syosset, due to visitor restrictions at hospitals to avoid the spread of the virus.
"The hardest part for any person in this situation is the disconnect, of not being able to be with your loved one. Not being able to be there physically. I think that takes a toll on everyone," he said.
But Diego is grateful that Zoila was in Kentucky when she became sick.
"The blessing for my wife is that she was there," he said. "There are no words that I have to commend the team that my wife had, all the doctors, all the nurses. If I was in a situation like that, that is who I would want myself. On a scale of 1 to 10, they were a thousand. They are all very kind. The doctors were candid, and they were very vested in my wife."
Hospital epidemiologist Dr. Mark Dougherty is part of the team that cared for Zoila, updating her family with her progress throughout her stay. "We developed a special relationship with Zoila. With her husband and children so far away we felt like her second family," he said. "She persisted through an arduous course during her illness but is now recovering rapidly. She received one of the first doses of convalescent plasma given in the country and we think that intervention, along with other innovative care, assisted in her recovery."
Zoila's inner strength was vital to her recovery, said Dr. Yuri Villaran, an intensivist who works with critically ill patients. "Her success is the combination of the efforts of multiple medical specialists, therapists and the care she received in the ICU, but even more importantly by her positive attitude," he said. "One of the things I remember the most, is once she was awake, and off the ventilator, seeing her trying to smile, still weak, but highly motivated, giving us all the reassurance that she would be fine."
Now Zoila is going home, where she likes nothing better than being with her family and her dog Chase, a Maltese and Yorkie mix.
Diego asks that people to do everything they can to stop the spread of COVID-19.
"I say to everyone, just be responsible, wear a mask, space yourself out, don't be in a rush for everything and keep your hands clean. Listen to what the medical experts are saying. Do what they're asking of you."