Dubai: Rhea Almazan Pangilinan, 37, couldn’t hold back the tears rolling down her cheeks. Despite trying hard, she broke down several times opening up about the poignant experience of her family fighting COVID-19. From what looked like a mild infection, her husband went into ICU, had to be intubated and fought for his life on the ventilator for nearly 16 days.
She and her husband, Angelito B Pangilinan Jr., 38, had tested positive for COVID-19 in early April, while their seven-year-old daughter stayed separate at home with the nanny. The Pangilinans have been Dubai residents for 13-years and this was a true trial by fire for the family.
No idea how we got the virus
Theirs was a classic case of community transmission of the virus as couple has no clue how they contracted the virus. Ever since the outbreak, they had exercised extra caution and never ventured out except for work. “Angelito never even took public transport. He used to drive to work. It was I who used to take the metro,” Rhea told Gulf News.
By the third week of March, it was Angelito who began to look indisposed. “It all started with my husband who showed signs of illness at first. He had a sore throat. But was hesitant to go to a hospital. In a few days, he manifested more symptoms. I asked him to consult a doctor then.”
Pangilan Jr went to VPS Medeor Hospital on March 30, a week after he had started showing symptoms. His tests were carried out and his results came positive on April 4. However doctors saw he displayed all symtoms of pneumonia, fever, shortness of breath and started his treatment even before the results came in. Rhea said: “On the day of admission, his condition had worsened, he had difficulty in breathing so had to be given oxygen support.”
Next day after admission, on ventilator
Rhea could not be in hospital with her husband as she was isolated at home. Within a day of admission, Angelito’s condition rapidly worsened. “The next day, I got a call from the hospital that they are intubating him. I was scared. I spoke to the doctor who informed that Angelito’s lungs had been severely infected. Both his lungs were affected by pneumonia,” said Rhea, who monitored the progress of her husband in the ICU, speaking to doctors. “It was the toughest challenge we faced, with no idea what was going to happen. I felt very vulnerable,“ recounted Rhea.
“I knew Angelito was on ventilator support. But I always texted him to be strong and brave. I couldn’t do anything else. But I was astonished to see how brave my child was,” she added.
My results came positive, but God spared my little one
In the meantime, Rhea was sure she would test positive too, although she had no symptoms, but prayed to God to spare her daughter. “I was informed that the chances for us to get infected were high. The results came after a few days. As I had prayed, only I was tested positive. During the period, I was very cautious and never touched my child. I also reconfirmed the test of my child by giving her samples for the second time,” said Rhea who was in home isolation as she suffered no major symptoms. The couple had followed smart precautions from March itself when Angelito had fallen ill and practised isolation.
7 year old prayed hard for her parents
Just seven-years-old, Ayah Pauline Pangilinan has shown immense courage and behaved with maturity. “She never cried knowing papa and mama were ill. She understood that I couldn’t touch her. So, she would come near me and act like hugging me. I would also do the same. She also wrote notes asking me to stay strong and eat healthy food. She prayed in the morning and night kneeling on her bed.”
Rhea recollected a shocking experience when Ayah asked her whether Angelito would die. “She asked this straight to my face. But then she told me why I am worried when there is God to protect us. I was overwhelmed with joy,” she said.
Strict treatment protocol bore results
In the meantime doctors continued to treat Panigilinan Jr, even as he was on ventilator following the international protocol of administering anti-virals and antibiotics for over a fortnight. Eventually on day 16 they were able to wean him off the ventilator and he continued to fight for life until he gained strength and showed signs of recovery. On day 16 Angelito was shifted to the room. However Rhea recalls a frightening realisation. “I was extremely happy. But he behaved as if he had a memory loss. It was frightening. He asked me why I am sending messages while at work. It took him about five days to get back to him normal sense. The doctor said it was normal as he had spent a long time on the ventilator,” she added.
On April 29, when his final swab for the virus came negative, he was discharged and was reunited with his family. He continues his 14 day isolation at home taking care to not touch his family.
Discharged from the hospital, Angelito told Gulf News he was very happy and thanked doctors and nurses at VPS Medeor Hospital for taking care of him. “I am extremely grateful to them for saving my life,” he added.
The little one, Ayah is also happy as papa and mama have become negative. “All in our family have tested negative, so we are all healthy!” she happily exclaimed.
Rhea thanked doctors and nurses for their selfless care and support. “I knew how hard it would have been managing Angelito during those days. Even in my case, they were very supportive. They used to call me every day to check my well-being while in isolation. Their support has been tremendous and invaluable,” she said adding that she would also like to thank to our family, friends and colleagues for their support. Rhea and Angelito are now helping others in their community and friend circles to cope up with stress of COVID-19 and educating them about how to stay safe.
“Family and friends are really precious in one’s life. During these times, it would not have been possible for us to tide over the crisis without the unconditional support from her close circle,” said Angelito. “In hospital I often thought, what if I die of this illness. My close ones will not even be able to see me. I truly treasure my family and friends more than ever now,” he added.
Dr Saheer Sainalabdeen, specialist respiratory medicine at VPS Medeor Hospital, told Gulf News that he and his collegaues Dr Vishnu Chaitanya Swaroop Sura and Dr Abdul Aneez were extremely relieved that they Angelito had shown an amazing reversal in 16 days and finally tested negative. Explaining the treatment protocol followed, he said, “Initially the patient was put on oxygen support, but when his oxygen requirement increased and he could hardly breathe independently, we moved him to a ventilator. Ths was followed with a lung-protective ventilation strategy. He was administered Hydroxychloroquinine, antibiotics, antivirals as per the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) treatment protocol, along with supportive care and we are so happy to see him back with his family.
Dr Sainalabdeen added: “I will cherish the recovery of Angelito for my lifetime. Through Angelito’s recovery, we would like to stress that there is no need to panic. Even critical cases like that of Angelito’s can be cured following the DHA treatment protocol.”