Grateful COVID-19 patients celebrate life this Thanksgiving

Nov. 20, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving.

This week, a few of the more than 3,250 patients who recovered from COVID-19 and were able to go home from UCHealth hospitals share the joys of surviving and their gratitude to the dedicated health care workers who encouraged them to stay strong and fight for every breath.

We mourn those we have lost this year, both to the coronavirus and to other illnesses.

For those who have won the battle against COVID-19, this Thanksgiving is like no other. While parades and large gatherings won’t be happening this year, we celebrate what’s most important, extraordinary lives.

Here are stories from a few of our grateful patients.

Dr. Michael Leonard, a grateful patient, with his grandchild.
Dr. Michael Leonard with his grandchild.

Grateful patient: Dr. Michael Leonard

Dr. Michael Leonard had to spend 34 days on a ventilator after becoming one of the first patients in Colorado to become critically ill with COVID-19 in March.

He was also the first patient in Colorado to receive convalescent plasma and now, he’s recovering well and delighting in spending time with his first grandchild, a girl named Hazel who was born in late September.

Leonard and his wife, Meg, are both grateful to the medical providers who saved his life. They’re sad to see hospitals filling up with critically-ill COVID-19 patients again.

“At a time of increasing duress and stress for our health care system and our skilled clinicians, I would like to offer a few thoughts,” said Leonard, who is an anesthesiologist and a health care consultant.

“I am alive and well as the result of your skill and tireless efforts during my 40 days in the ICU with COVID at UCHealth,” Leonard said.

“You all clearly saved my life against serious odds. I continue to get well, can ride a Peloton bike 30 minutes without oxygen, and am enjoying my new granddaughter, the amazing Hazel.

“The work you do is sacred, and I am moved by the ethos and commitment you show every day in caring for patients. You make a difference in people’s lives, and I am here to share my thoughts because of the care you provided for me. I am eternally grateful.”

Meg Leonard also wants to share her gratitude with health care workers who saved her husband’s life and kept her hopes alive during a very challenging time.

Meg Leonard thanked frontline workers for rising up once again to handle a precipitous surge.

“You all must be so worn out, haven ridden this roller coaster of disease for months now,” Meg Leonard said. “I am so grateful to every one of you.”

“Michael was one of the sickest COVID patients (at UCHealth University of Colorado) in the ICU and on a ventilator in March, April and part of May. Thanks to YOU he survived. And also, thanks to you, my family and I endured those awful days maintaining a sense of hope, knowing that he was well cared for,” Meg Leonard said.

“You helped us most when we felt desperate, said yes to most of our requests, helped to calm and reassure us when his prognosis appeared so bleak. Though I was not allowed to visit, you helped to facilitate iPad visits, a Nest cam and photos to help him reorient. You helped him to stand at a window during his recovery, so we could see each other from afar.

“Not only did you save his life, but you helped me hope that a recovery was possible.  There were many days when I thought I might lose my mind with worry, and you were there to listen and reassure, not by giving false hope, but by letting me know you were doing all that was possible to help him through.  Doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, ward clerks, chaplains, social workers, psychologists, rehabilitation experts, nursing assistants, maintenance workers, security folks…I am sure I have left someone out of this list, but I hold each and every one of you near to my heart,” Meg Leonard said.

“Michael has recovered unbelievably well. With the exception of some lingering breathing problems, he has no ongoing issues.  We are so lucky and appreciative for his continuing life. To add some icing to the cake, our daughter just gave birth to our first grandchild, in late September. That Michael is here to celebrate her arrival means the world to us all.

“So please know how your efforts have changed the course of the life of this one family.  We will never forget it.”

Grateful patient: Ernesto Castro

As 34-year-old Ernesto Castro lay in the Intensive Care Unit at Medical Center of the Rockies with COVID-19, there were many times he thought he would not live to see his wife and two children.

“I was scared,” Castro said. “But I was comforted by a lot of the RNs. They were very engaging and they’d talk to me, assuring me that things were going to be OK.”

Claudia, Ernesto (one of UCHealth's grateful patients) and 18-month Camila. Photo courtesy of Ernesto Castro.
Ernesto Castro, his wife, Claudia and daughter, Camila, after Ernesto returned home from the COVID ICU unit at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies. Ernesto expressed how grateful he was for the care he received as a patient of MCR. Photo courtesy of Ernesto Castro.

Castro arrived at UCHealth Greeley Hospital in mid-March but when his condition began to rapidly deteriorate, he was taken to MCR where he spent the next 10 days in the ICU.

“I can’t stress enough the amazing job they all did with me,” he said. “As soon as I walked in, I felt that they cared. They truly do love what they do and have a passion for it.”

At MCR, Castro was placed in a medically-induced coma while doctors and nurses fought to save his life.

“They’d walk in, and I could remember their eyes and their voices,” he said. “A lot of RNs took care of me but I remember Cherokee and Melanie being real heroes. These people dealt with me in my darkest time.

“I want to thank every last person there. … I just really appreciate everyone. If it wasn’t for the staff, I don’t think I’d be here. They are so multitalented, good-natured and so kind. I wish I could go in there now and thank every single person personally, but I know that’s not possible right now.’’

Castro thanks the staff for helping him, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

“You spoke with me and some even prayed with me. I’ve never been in a facility like that and it gave me a really warm feeling that I’ll never stop thinking of you guys,” he said.

Castro spent two weeks in the hospital before he was reunited with his wife and 18-month-old daughter outside the hospital. They celebrated Castro’s 35th birthday together at home.

“I’m so glad that the people at UCHealth helped me make my dream come true,” he said. “You guys are godsends.”

Castro is back at work as a social worker for a health clinic in Greeley, and helping to care for people, including many who are stressed out by COVID-19.

“I try to do my part,” he said. “I wasn’t part of the front line (in the spring because I was being cared for, but now I am. I do what I can to take some of the load from them. We are all scared, but we keep pushing.”

Grateful patient: Ravi Turman

COVID-19 nearly killed Ravi Turman.

African American COVID-19 survivor, Ravi Turman, raised her hand in the air, grateful to have beaten COVID-19 while a patient at UCH.
In the hospital, Ravi boosted the spirits of her health care team when she became the first in her unit to get off a ventilator. She wasn’t able to speak right away, but when the team shared the news with Ravi, she held her arm in the air to signify victory over COVID-19. She reenacted her joyful pose in a park recently.

She actually remembers feeling like she was dying, then the thought of her mother and daughter pulled her back to life. That was during the first peak of the pandemic in March.

Ravi Turman was one of the first people on her COVID-19 unit at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital to get off a ventilator, to survive and to get released from the hospital.

Today, life isn’t easy. Ravi, 52, and her daughter, Ana Caldwell, 29, are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. They’ve been moving from place to place and Ana’s car is broken down, making it harder to get to work. Ravi has a new job she enjoys at a logistics company that supplies food to 7-Eleven stores.

Her battle with COVID-19 remains fresh. Ravi occasionally has problems catching her breath. And, she sometimes deals with anxiety now even though she always had been a laid-back soul. Both lingering health effects and mental health challenges can be common for COVID-19 survivors.

Despite all of this, Ravi finds herself overwhelmed with gratitude: for her family, for the miracle of life and for the caregivers who kept her alive.

“I look at it as an awakening. That’s the best way to describe it,” Ravi said of her COVID-19 journey.

“It has made me more aware of the simple things in my life. It has made me choose my battles more wisely.”

When people are upset over small things, Ravi wants to tell them, “That’s no big deal.”

“I see things differently than I used to. I have a lot more patience than I did,” she said. “It has caused me to appreciate relationships in a far greater way that I used to.”

Ravi cannot wait to reunite with her mother 81-year-old mother in Indiana as soon as it’s safe. She’s also excited to see her brother and sister again.

“I’m more aware of people than I was before,” she said.

As cases of COVID-19 skyrocket now and hospitals fill up again with patients like Ravi, she has a message for the dedicated medical providers who kept her alive.

“I would say to them, ‘Stay in the fight. It’s worth the fight.’ They signed up to save people and they saved me.

“You haven’t just touched my life. You’ve affected my family, my friends, the people in my church. Each life has value. Each person you touch, in turn, affects their family, their friends and their co-workers.

“I’m alive, and wow. You did that. You are affecting far more people than you realize. As hard as it is to try to save the life of one of us, and as difficult as it is to watch some of us die, you never know what’s going to happen when you save that one person.”

Grateful patient: Jade Calderon

Jade Calderon was 34-weeks pregnant with symptoms of COVID-19 when her husband, Mikey, drove her to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies.

Mikey and grateful patient Jade, who delivered her baby, Marcos, while she was positive for COVID-19.
Mikey Chavez and Jade Calderon with their son, Marcos Miguel Chavez. Photo courtesy of Jade Calderon.

Sure enough, tests showed that Jade was positive for COVID-19. In addition, her urine showed higher-than-normal levels of protein, suggesting she also had preeclampsia.

“That’s when they decided we were going to have this baby,” Jade recalled. “We weren’t prepared for anything — we didn’t take anything with us. We were thinking we’d come back home.”

Instead, Jade was about to deliver a premature baby in a COVID-19 world.

“Even though it was crazy and a little overwhelming for them because I was the first one (to deliver with COVID-19 at MCR), they managed to make me feel comfortable being there,” Jade said. “It was very scary, but they talked me through it. They stood in the room with me and talked us through it.

“It was our first kid, so they were giving us tips here and there. I really appreciated that at that time, especially when I wasn’t able to have my mom and other support people I normally would have had with me.’’

A nurse named Lisa reassured her that all would be OK. And it was.

At 10:15 p.m. on April 5, Marcos Miguel Chaves, weighing 6 pounds, 3 ounces, and measuring 19.5 inches long, made his debut. He was strong, with few complications, and spent almost two weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit. Nurses and doctors helped Jade and Mikey FaceTime so they could see their son and shared videos and pictures of his progress.

In the months since Marcos’ birth, Jade has returned to work. For many months, she has been thinking of the health care workers who are caring for people during the pandemic.

“My heart has been so heavy for the frontline workers who helped us,” Jade said.

She hopes to convey her thankfulness for their care through her words of gratitude and support.

“Stay strong,” she said. “I know it’s overwhelming and anxiety is probably going through the roof, but you can make a difference in another pregnant woman’s outlook on what’s going on.”

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.