A COVID-19 patient who spent 6 months on life support at a hospital in San Diego County miraculously overcoming obstacle after obstacle achieved his goal Tuesday: he finally got to go home.
“It feels like a dream,” the patient’s mother, Cecilia Amador, told reporters standing in front of Scripps Memorial Hospital on Genesee Avenue in La Jolla.
The hospital had been home to her son, Eduardo Moreno, since he was admitted on July 19, 2020 – eight very, very long months ago.
Fighting back tears, Amador said she couldn’t believe that, after everything – including three months spent in a coma and three surgeries – Moreno was coming home.
“He made it,” she said. “He’s here; he’s walking. He remembers everything. He’s 100%.”
Moreno, in a wheelchair and wearing a face mask, sat quietly next to his mother after being discharged Tuesday. It was an emotional day – a lot to take in after all he had been through.
“We’re going home, thank God,” Amador said.
Moreno’s send-off from Scripps Memorial Hospital was filled with balloons, cheering, and lots of nurses who held signs to say goodbye to the man they had grown to know so well over the past 8 months.
“Congratulations, Eduardo. You’re a fighter,” one sign read.
“ECMO Graduate. You did it!” read another.
Moreno was wheeled through the lobby, through an archway made of white and light blue balloons. A colorful paper link chain hung at the end of the path. Moreno happily broke his way through it.
It was the finish line to a medical marathon.
The nurses and hospital staffers cheered him on.
He wore a mask but, in his eyes, you could see traces of a smile.
His mom was there to take him home.
Eduardo's Long Fight Against COVID-19
Moreno contracted COVID-19 sometime in either late June 2020 or early July 2020. He was first hospitalized on July 13, 2020, at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista. Six days later, he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at Scripps Memorial Hospital where he was placed on life support.
Things did not look good for him.
“He was very critical,” his mother recalled. “They told us that he wasn’t going to make it.”
Dr. Scott McCaul, M.D., is the medical director at Scripps ICU and ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation). He has been a pulmonary ICU physician at Scripps since 1987.
McCaul was one of Moreno's main doctors. He said the young man’s case – and his determination to survive – was nothing short of a miracle.
“It’s a phenomenal recovery – and a great deal of work on his part,” McCaul said.
McCaul said Moreno – at his worst – depended on machines entirely to survive. When he arrived at the ICU, Moreno was experiencing an advanced degree of respiratory failure from COVID-related pneumonia.
“[He had] destructive changes in his lungs – and required tubes to allow for expansion of his lungs,” the doctor explained.
Moreno was placed on life support and machines took over his lung function.
McCaul said his patient had to, essentially, “learn to breathe underwater,” and to use a machine to do what his lungs used to do but “without being able to feel the breathing.”
Moreno survived several surgeries. Little by little, McCaul said Moreno got himself out of paralysis, sedation – out of a coma – to standing, walking, and getting his physical capacity back.
Through all of that, the mental and physical exhaustion was a daily struggle. McCaul said there were days filled with anxiety and pain – but also an unbelievable will to fight in his patient.
Moreno’s nurses and doctors stood by him every step of the way.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Moreno's family mostly had to stick to virtually “visiting” him via video calls. There were few hugs.
“Physical contact was so sparse,” McCaul said.
Amador said being away from her son while he was so sick was the most difficult thing for her to experience as a parent.
She cried a lot.
She prayed even more.
“He went through a lot. His lungs were bleeding. He had a blood clot in his head,” Amador explained.
When she couldn’t be there to comfort her son, Amador said the nurses and doctors stepped up for him like family.
Amador said the nurses “spoiled him” – even bringing Moreno In-n-Out burgers a time or two and, around the holidays, putting up a little Christmas tree and gifts in his room.
Moreno got stronger.
Along the way, there were, of course, setbacks.
McCaul said in December 2020 – right around Christmas – was one of those moments. Moreno set some goals for himself – his wish list for Christmas.
“Eduardo’s goals for Christmas included learning how to talk on the ventilator, walking 100 feet, doing a video for his daughter, eating his mom's albondigas,” McCaul recalled.
“Probably my most emotional moment was being in his room and looking at all of the personal items – the things that really made Eduardo himself in that room,” the doctor added. “The Christmas tree that the nurses had brought in there and knowing that those goals had been shut down.”
But Moreno kept fighting, making it through yet another surgery.
After that final operation, Moreno's mom said McCaul finally told her, “Don’t worry, he’s going to make it home.”
On Jan. 11, 2021, McCaul said Moreno’s lungs healed enough for him to be disconnected from the machines.
McCaul said that through it all, Moreno showed everyone at the hospital that even if something is hard or seems impossible, getting through it IS possible.
“He’s a model for all of us,” he added.
Since the coronavirus pandemic reached San Diego County one year ago, San Diego County public health officers have tracked 267,917 positive cases of COVID-19 in our region. A total of 3,494 COVID-related deaths have been reported in San Diego County. For the latest daily updates on the coronavirus crisis in our region, click here.