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Beating COVID-19: One local man shares his journey to recovery

Published: Mar. 1, 2021 at 5:05 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - J.P. Nunez is a 23-year-old who works as a manager for his family’s restaurant in Eau Claire.

His story begins back in September. After spending the day with family, Nunez didn’t feel well.

“I’m really congested. I’m really stuffy,” Nunez said. “After a week, it didn’t go away, and I was going to go visit my grandma in Mexico. She’s 93, and I was like, I’m going to get tested just to be safe. I go and get tested, and sure enough, it comes back positive.”

Nunez was treating his symptoms at home until one morning he woke up and couldn’t breathe. His girlfriend drove him to the emergency room.

That’s where he met Dr. Ali Zaied, a pulmonologist with the Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire.

“Some people stay in the hospital for a few days on a low amount of oxygen, get treated with a medication approved these days, and leave the hospital,” Zaied said. “And some of them, like JP’s case, where just things continue to progress very rapidly, very quickly.”

Five days after being admitted to the hospital, Nunez was sent to the Critical Care Unit.

A few days later he was on a ventilator.

When his condition didn’t improve, his doctors sent him to Mayo’s hospital in Rochester for more specialized care.

Dr. Kyle Bohman and his team used a technology called ECMO to help Nunez recover.

“ECMO is really the most intensive form of support we have to offer,” Nunez said. “It’s reserved for those who are near death, or we think would likely die without it.”

The ECMO machine does the work of your lungs and heart allowing your blood to get oxygen while taking the pressure off of your organs.

After only a week on ECMO, Nunez was finally starting to recover.

Looking back at this experience Nunez has a new perspective.

“You never know when your last moment is going to be,” Nunez said. “I thought mine was coming, and just pretty much being tied down to a bed and locked in a room. It brought me a new appreciation of life.”

He said he’ll never take his health for granted again. He’s also thankful for the doctors, nurses and medical team that helped him.

Nunez is the youngest person to have needed this form of care at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Months after his battle with the virus, he is busy living his life to the fullest.

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