The power of a family's love

Generations of Care at Royal Inland Hospital

The Garcia Family November 2020

Love is something that we feel across the distance. It lives within us and binds us to all whom we care about. This was very evident in the case of Frank Joseph Garcia, who after contracting COVID-19, went from a strong and fit 65-year-old, to a man fighting for his life.

“I love my wife, my kids, my grandkids more than words can say. They are my world. The thought that COVID-19 could end my life, and I would never see them again, was unbearable.” (Frank Joseph Garcia)

The importance of family is something that Frank does not take for granted. As a child, his parents separated and he was sent to live in foster care. He rarely saw his five siblings, who were also in various foster care homes. As the eldest child, he felt responsible for his siblings, and the separation from them was very difficult. Frank’s challenging childhood, one that may have brought others down, made him tougher. Both mentally and physically strong, Frank grew into an independent adult.

After marrying and having a family of his own, Frank worked hard to give his three daughters the upbringing that he was denied. He taught them to hunt, fish, and gather, and ensured that they would not want for anything. Today, all three admire their father greatly and strive to be like him.

The closeness of the family would end up being critical in the months of Frank’s illness. Initially diagnosed with pneumonia on March 26, 2020, at the hospital in Merritt, Frank’s condition rapidly deteriorated. He was intubated and sent by ambulance the next day to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. He was also tested for COVID-19. The result came back positive.

“It was unreal and very scary. None of us could believe that he had COVID-19 and we could not figure out where he got it from. He went into ICU at RIH and we could not see him. For weeks, we did not know if he would even pull through. The uncertainty over such a long period of time was very hard on our family. We cried every day.” (Cathy Garcia, wife)

Frank’s positive result meant, of course, that the entire family had to quarantine. Although other family members were not tested, some had mild symptoms, which at the time were not recognized as being part of the array of COVID-19 symptoms. Word also got out that Frank had tested positive, and the family suffered discrimination and were treated ‘as if they had the plague’. These were the early days of the pandemic, when everyone was nervous, and the understanding of transmission was not clearly known.

Frank does not remember being in the ICU, nor does he remember anything of the 42 days following his admittance. In fact, when he finally regained consciousness, he thought the nurse was joking when she told him it was May and not March. On day 43 and against the odds, Frank did improve to the point of being able to leave the ICU and be put on a ward. But he had a long road to recovery ahead of him. His cognitive abilities were impacted and he suffered from memory loss. In addition, he had lost 46 pounds, much of it muscle mass, and did not have the strength to even get out of the wheelchair. He started doing rehabilitation at the centre within the hospital, working with Dr. Natalja Tchajkova, the new Physiatrist. Eventually, most of his strength returned as it was the desire to see his family again that kept him motivated to do the exhausting exercises. And, being on a regular ward, he was able to Facetime his family and keep in regular contact. But the lack of physical closeness to his family wore him down mentally.

Frank Garcia

“My Dad is strong-willed with a strong mind. He is a fighter and I think that this spirit is what got him through his battle with COVID-19. But even a strong person needs to be physically with family – to hug and to laugh. It is very important for the mental health of the patient. Watching my dad, who had been through so much, slide into depression was heartbreaking for us.” (Marcy Garcia, daughter)

Frank’s physical and mental strength before contracting COVID-19 allowed him to pull through. Back in Merritt, his life is gradually returning to the new normal of life in a pandemic. His sense of humour remains and he jokes that after 67 days of no haircut and no shave, he looked like the Sasquatch man. He returned to work in early October, and even though he still suffers from shortness of breath, he is improving every day. He is very thankful to the entire healthcare team at RIH for the excellent care that he received. In particular, one nurse, Heather, was with him when he entered the hospital on March 26, and was also with him when he was discharged 64 days later, on May 27. Frank is also appreciative for the continued care that he gets from Dr. Morgan Lyttle, Family Practitioner in Merritt.

“It was horrible to be in my situation and I was surprised and shocked that I came out of it. I thought I would never see my family again. If it were not for my family and the doctors and nurses, who knows what would have happened.” (Frank Joseph Garcia)

Marcy with son, Chase

The Garcia Family’s connection with RIH did not end when Frank was discharged. His daughter, Marcy, was admitted a couple of months later, not with COVID-19, but rather to give birth to a premature baby. She was rushed to RIH from Merritt on July 28, and gave birth a few hours later to her son, Chase. This was Marcy’s first pregnancy, her prenatal classes had been cancelled due to the pandemic, she was 8 weeks early, and she did not know what to expect. She believes that the stress she suffered due to her dad’s lengthy hospitalization contributed to the early birth. However, the staff in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was excellent, took great care of Chase, and helped Marcy navigate being a new mother.

“The Kamloops hospital is amazing and the NICU team incredible. The pandemic has really affected our family and I just want people to know that this is real so everyone needs to be cautious.” (Marcy Garcia)

Strong love, combined with excellent healthcare, enabled the Garcia’s to overcome not one, but two, huge health hurdles. Frank is almost recovered, Chase is growing and thriving, and the entire family is very grateful.

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