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Holy Cross employee finds peace in his battle with COVID-19

Rene Perez considers his role at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center to be more than a job; it’s a calling. Working in the Sub-Acute Center, he focuses on patients needing long-term care. “It’s beautiful,” Rene says. “I love this place … the way that we work. We help each other no matter what. Holy Cross is my family and we consider our patients our family.”

That close relationship took on an even more crucial role when Rene was diagnosed with COVID-19 — possibly the first case treated at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center.

Initially, he had no other symptoms than a cough. But his son Franco Perez, LVN, knew from his training as a nurse that the cough didn’t sound right. And because Rene’s symptoms were taking place very early in the coronavirus pandemic, the medical community didn’t know what it was — or how to treat him. Rene went to an urgent care facility, but during that uncertain time, the nurse said he couldn’t be treated there. So, he went to his doctor’s office, where he was administered a test for COVID, and was taken back to the urgent care clinic.

Soon, Rene’s cough intensified and breathing became more difficult. Finally, his family called the paramedics, and his son Franco used his badge to have Rene taken to Holy Cross.

The illness progressed so quickly that Rene needed to be put into a medically induced coma. He suffered from kidney failure, damage to his pancreas, heart issues and liver damage from his medications. His lungs were damaged, making it hard to breathe, which resulted in being intubated and put on a ventilator. With no precedent for COVID treatment early in the pandemic, doctors tried three different drug therapies to see what would work for him. They warned Rene’s family he might also lose some of his brain function.

Rene would spend the next three months and three days in the hospital fighting COVID-19 — one of those months in a coma, and one month in the ICU. For his safety and the safety of his family, no visitors were allowed. Rene’s wife of 32 years was understandably devastated.

Eventually, when Rene came out of his coma, he felt a divine presence. “When I woke up, I felt like I was in a special place and that God was with me,” says Rene. “I can’t explain what He looked like but I could hear His voice. I woke up so peacefully, with no suffering.”

He also had distinct dreams and visions of beloved family members who had passed away. “People from the other side were talking to me. God is guiding them now.”

With the help of the Holy Cross chaplain, Rene connected to his family through an iPad; he was too weak to hold the tablet himself, so the chaplain had to hold it for him. “Every day, my daughter Gabriella called to see how I was,” remembers Rene. He was especially motivated by the love of his three-year-old granddaughter, Zoila. “She would ask, ‘Where is Pa?’ She gave me a reason to fight. Zoila wanted her Pa to come back.”

Later, as he came out of the ICU, Rene was too weak to hold even a pen. He spent another month in rehabilitation, gradually regaining his strength. Throughout his ongoing recovery, he has retained that same sense of peace and wellbeing. “When I was discharged, I felt like a normal patient, but I had a peace inside me that was wonderful.”

Today, Rene is taking his time as he recovers from the effects of his near-fatal encounter with the coronavirus. He is still weak and is not yet ready to go back to work — but he has good days, too. “Some days I feel great and I can take a walk and get dessert with my wife I don’t know how the long-term damage and side effects of COVID-19 will affect my life. However, I am just grateful to be alive and living one day at a time.”

Meanwhile, he implores our community to take the threat of the coronavirus seriously — including wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distance. “I hope someone can learn from my experience so they can take care of their family. You have to do your part,” he says.

Looking back on his struggle with COVID-19, Rene shares his immense gratitude for the caregivers at his community hospital and beloved workplace. “The doctors and nurses refused to let me die. I want to thank my doctors; Dr. Eshagian Babak, and Dr. Sani Sassan and RN; Gustavo Grimaldi who worked behind the scenes to assure that I was given the proper treatment to stay alive until I was stable. They are angels from God who save people’s lives. I’m the best example.”

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Call: 818-496-4600
Address: 15031 Rinaldi St., Mission Hills, CA 91345
Email: phcfoundation@providence.org

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