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Six weeks on a ventilator: North Augusta man survives battle with COVID-19

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When Gonzalo "Kiko" Castro was diagnosed with COVID-19 this past September, he had no way of knowing how much the virus would turn his life upside down.

Castro, 67, experienced some of the symptoms that have become synonymous with the novel coronavirus and was taken to the emergency room at Augusta University Health by his wife, Julie Ann, since that would be quicker than making an appointment with a doctor. He spent two days in the hospital before being sent home with oxygen.

“That’s when it got really scary," said Angela Stroman, Castro's daughter.

Stroman, 34, a nurse, had given her parents a pulse oximeter, which monitors a person's oxygen saturation. After Castro returned home, he used it to measure his levels to see how he was doing because he was still experiencing shortness of breath.

"A normal respiratory rate is somewhere between 12 and 20," Stroman said. "His was probably 47."

"She took me back to the emergency (room) and that’s the last thing I remember, leaving the house and getting there until I think it was six weeks after," Castro said.

During those six weeks, Castro was on a ventilator. He said he wasn't in a coma, but he just doesn't remember anything. He thought he was there for just two days.

Stroman remarked on how different the hospital experience was during the pandemic, as the family wasn't able to see Castro at all for the first three weeks of his hospital stay.

“It’s just very scary," Stroman said. "I know it’s affected so many people, but it does feel different when it’s happened to somebody that is in your family, when it hits home that hard.”

In all, Castro spent 69 days in the medical intensive care unit and another 17 in the intermediate care unit. He was later told that he almost died twice, which he said didn't frighten him.

"I wasn’t scared at all because, you know, I’m ready," Castro said. "I’m a Christian. It’s going to happen one day anyways, whether we’re ready or not. Really, I was never scared because I knew I was in good hands there because of the way they treated me and the way they supported my family. Great support. It means a lot."

Castro called his team at AU Health his "angels." He said the doctors and nurses were always smiling when they came into his room and constantly encouraged him, which Castro said kept him going.

Castro had many of the support staff sign a hat of his, so that he can always remember them.

"You can’t put a price on that (care)," Castro said. "That’s why I call them my angels."

Since returning home on Jan. 15, Castro has progressed back to a sense of normalcy. He used a walker for the first two weeks he was home, but has since worked his way up to walking 3 miles a day with no assistance.

Stroman and Castro both agreed that the ordeal brought their family closer together.

"It has a way of highlighting how important it is to have each other to rely on for the support or the encouragement," Stroman said. "It was such a rollercoaster every single day."

Castro also has received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which he said he had no hesitancy about. Along with that, he noted that everyone should take the virus seriously, as he and his wife both took all the recommended precautions and still became infected.

"It’s so important that people get vaccinated and understand what (COVID-19) can look like," Stroman said.

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