Local long-haul COVID survivors faced tough battle against virus


NEW YORK — Court Officer Anibal Ortiz of the Bronx recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic with his girlfriend. But the COVID-19 survivor, who lost his left arm because of blood clots, didn’t take his $60,000 prosthetic.

“You’re alive,” Ortiz said about his life, post-virus. “I mean, how can you complain about being alive?”

But the journey over these last 16 months has been difficult, emotionally and physically, for Ortiz and so many others.

“I don’t do my shopping anymore,” Ortiz noted, “I have to have that delivered, I don’t do my laundry anymore. You just have to relearn how to do things.”

Christina Paz, a Staten Island mother of five who barely avoided going on a ventilator, said she never got her full strength back since fighting off the virus in March and April of 2020.

“People need to know it’s more than just having it and surviving it,” Paz explained. “Even when I got that horrendous rash, they thought it was a separate issue.”

Turns out the rash wasn’t a separate issue.

COVID-19 is much more than a respiratory disease. It’s capable of wreaking havoc in many parts of the body.

Paz recalled pleading with the nurses and doctors not to put her on a ventilator, because she’d heard the outcomes often weren’t good.

“And I had begged them,” Paz emphasized. “I had begged them to wait until my last possible breath before they did that. I wrote, since I couldn’t speak, just not to do it, until absolutely the last second.”

Paz said she is incredibly fortunate that the virus stopped progressing before it reached her lungs. But the married mom still needs to see a host of specialists she never needed before, like a pulmonologist and cardiologist.

In Queens, Karla Duarte — now 17 — has made a very good recovery after her COVID-19 ordeal, even though a ventilator wasn’t enough to save her in April 2020, so doctors tried an ECMO machine, an artificial lung.

Duarte needed a walker to get around when she left the hospital last year.

Her mother, Ana Tejada, told PIX1  the teen dealt with long-haul issues for nine or 10 months afterwards.

“Her hair started to fall off, we had to go to a dermatologist,” Tejada told PIX11. “She had bald spots.”

Karla Duarte received injections that helped her hair grow back. The tingling she felt in her left leg is gone and she feels she is 100% back to normal.

Duarte recently celebrated a milestone.

“I just graduated from high school,” Duarte told PIX11 News outside her Queens Village home. “It was very emotional… being able to graduate after the pandemic, after missing two months of school last year and just overcoming those challenges.”

Duarte showed us photos where she was happily posing with her school guidance counselor and teachers.

“Now I’m going to college; I’m going to Molloy College,” she said, “and I plan on studying for respiratory therapy.”

Respiratory therapists were very involved in Karla Duarte’s care and recovery at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

“I want to be able to help patients the same way I was helped when I was hospitalized,” Duarte said.

As for Officer Ortiz, he’s made friends with a neighbor who lives on the same floor in his Co-op City building.
Rafael Vasquez lost his left leg to complications from diabetes and wears a prosthetic.

Vasquez recalled seeing Ortiz being wheeled to an ambulance last year.

“He came out, he told us, ‘I got COVID, don’t worry. I’ll fight it, I’ll be back,'” the neighbor remembered.

Vasquez said Officer Ortiz seemed to be in a bit of shock after losing his arm to the blood clots.

“I told him, ‘I know what he’s going through,'” Vasquez related.

Vasquez’s wife also helped Ortiz during his time of need.

“His wife changed my bandages for four months,” Ortiz told PIX11 News. “Hardly knew me.  Hardly knew me.”

Ortiz now walks five miles a day and accepted the challenge of holding an iguana during his trip to the Dominican Republic with his longtime girlfriend.  

He has advice for other COVID long-haulers who go through tough times.

“Keep one step in front of the other and just keep moving forward,” Ortiz said. “And try to live a life.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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