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Patient with Down syndrome beats odds battling COVID-19

Last updated on July 15, 2020

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Family vows to raise awareness about the disease within the Hispanic community

FORT WORTH, Texas — Born with Down syndrome, Luis Pamones is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. But when he was rushed to the hospital on May 1 after testing positive for COVID-19, his greatest challenge was yet to come as he fought to survive the potentially deadly disease.

After a 56-day battle, Luis, 23, claimed victory over COVID-19 as he left the hospital in a “send-off celebration.” He was surrounded by the dedicated front-line workers at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth who cared for him during his long hospital stay.

According to John Hollingsworth, M.D., a pulmonologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Fort Worth, Luis was in critical condition from admission. Having already experienced severe respiratory distress for several days before he arrived, Luis was immediately transferred to the ICU and intubated within hours of arriving at the hospital.

Fighting to Survive

Luis’ battle with COVID-19 came as a shock to his parents, Ana and Constantine Hernandez. This was the first time they had ever been separated from their son, uncertain of the severity of his condition and when they would see him again.

“Being completely cut off from loved ones while being treated for COVID-19 would be difficult for anyone, but it was an especially vulnerable situation for Luis as a special-needs patient,” said Emily Gabehart-Weuste, M.Div. BCC, chaplain at Texas Health Fort Worth, who met regularly with Luis’s parents for support.

Luis remained on a ventilator for 41 days.

On June 14, finally able to breathe on his own, he was extubated and transferred to the cardiac unit for the remainder of his recovery.

According to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, children and adults with Down syndrome are known to have several co-occurring conditions, that if are untreated or active, may put them at higher risk for COVID-19. These conditions can include ongoing heart defects (heart disease). Individuals who have heart failure or heart disease should consult with their health care provider about additional precautions that may be needed, especially if additional co-occurring conditions associated with Down syndrome also exist such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Kidney disease

“We’re always on the lookout for complications, but with a patient like Luis who may be more vulnerable, we’re extra diligent in monitoring for signs of complications, especially when the immune system is severely compromised,” said Hollingsworth.

Raising Awareness

Luis’s mother, Ana Hernandez, said Luis’ case highlights the impact the virus can have on people with special needs, but the most important thing she wants to do is raise awareness within the Latinx community, reminding others to take every safety precaution possible.

“The danger still exists, it’s still very real, and it’s not going away without our help,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) most recent weekly summary report, 42 percent of total COVID-19 deaths reported in Texas are among the Hispanic demographic, making it the largest group when compared by race.

“The Latinx community in general is a very tight-knit group, always finding ways to celebrate or be close family,” said Jaime Fletes, R.N., at Texas Health Fort Worth, and a member of Luis’s ICU care team.

“But it’s important to remember that right now, everything can wait. The best way we can show our loved ones we care about them is to stay away. Lives like Luis’s depend on it.”

Celebrating Recovery Together

Although he was unable to communicate for most of his time in the hospital, Luis’s kind heart and positive spirit inspired everyone he met, said Gabehart-Weuste, to be a voice on his behalf to raise awareness about the dangers of the disease. 

In spite of any future obstacles that lie ahead for Luis, Ana says that nothing will ever compare to what he has been able to overcome in the past two months.

“I was never scared the whole time, not even once,” Luis said with a brave smile, adding that he is most excited about spending recovery playing with his German shepherd and watching wrestling on TV.

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