A life — and health care workers’ hope — saved

By The Health News Team | March 9, 2022
Arturo Gris of San Diego

Arturo Gris shares a close bond with his family, who helped lift not only his spirits, but also the spirits of his care providers, who found hope in his recovery and his family's support. (Photo courtesy of the Gris family)

There is no question that health care providers are heroes. While the past two years have highlighted this fact, the truth is that they have been performing heroic work long before the pandemic and will continue to do so long after.

However, sometimes, the heroes can be found in the hospital bed — and even outside the hospital walls. That certainly was the case when Hector “Arturo” Gris was admitted to Sharp Coronado Hospital in December 2020 due to complications of COVID-19.

Arturo first arrived at Sharp Coronado’s Emergency Room (ER) and instantly felt confident that he was safe. He knew the Sharp team would do everything in their power to help him. “Everyone was so concerned about me and immediately made me feel at home,” he says.

Due to the severity of his illness, Arturo needed to be moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). There, he was placed in a medically induced coma, intubated and put on a ventilator. And although he was unaware of all that was going on around him for the next two months, his family members became a near-constant presence outside the hospital, rallying around both him and his care providers.

A continuous show of support
“It was very hard for us when my dad was in a coma,” says Ginelle Gladysz-Gris, Arturo’s adult daughter. “At first, my mom and I just sat at home staring at the phone, waiting for news from the ICU nurses. One day, we decided to call them, and we could hear how busy they were. Even with all sorts of alarms going off in the background, they were always so kind to us and we knew we had to do something to help them.”

Ginelle and her mother, Virginia Gris, left right away to buy a dozen doughnuts and deliver them to the nurses. Those doughnuts were the first of many tokens of gratitude Arturo’s loved ones gave to the Sharp team members caring for him.

However, for Arturo’s caregivers, such support was a gift needed more than the family could ever know, and one the Sharp staff will never forget. “They were taking care of us as much as we were taking care of him,” says Haley DiPane, MT-BC, a board-certified music therapist.

Healing for everyone
DiPane, who often visited Arturo’s room throughout his stay to play music for him — and later, with him — would share videos of their time together with his family. His friends and family, in exchange, continued to deliver more treats, dozens of thank-you cards, gifts and more to DiPane and other Sharp Coronado team members.

On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, Arturo’s loved ones created gift bags and brought meals for the nurses on both the morning and evening shifts. They even catered a three-course Italian feast for Sharp Coronado team members in the parking lot one night.

“They are such a sweet, kind family,” DiPane says. “They became a part of our Sharp family and got us through some very tough spots during the worst of the pandemic, when everyone and everything felt so sad. To be reminded how important we — and the work we do — are meant a lot.”

Creating connection, even for others
Every day during his hospitalization, Arturo’s family and friends gathered outside his first-floor room window. They would sing, pray, share food with other patients’ visitors, and offer their thanks to the Sharp Coronado staff.

“Arturo’s family was really incredible,” says Rob Hejdak, RN, one of Arturo’s night nurses. “The daily prayer with their group on Zoom usually happened as I took his vital signs upon arrival for the night shift, and often included a mention of me.”

It was their appreciation of the ability to use an iPad and video calls to pray over, sing to — and when he was able, communicate with — Arturo that also led Virginia and Ginelle to raise funds to donate iPads to the hospital so that other families could stay connected to their own loved ones. Friends and family members all chipped in to make the generous gift possible.

“The iPad allowed us to see and talk to my dad, even when he was in a coma and we couldn’t visit because of COVID restrictions,” Ginelle says. “He and my mom have been best friends since they were 12 and they have a special whistle they have always done with one another. My mom would whistle to him over the iPad and he would open his eyes, even while he was in the coma — it was beautiful.”

Celebrating family, old and new
As the family’s prayers worked and his exceptional care led to his improved health, Arturo regained consciousness and began his lengthy recovery. He then joined his loved ones in honoring and inspiring DiPane, Hejdak and others who took care of him.

“That’s just the way we are,” Arturo says. “We are a tight family, and they were very touched by the care I received. They wanted to show that they care about others the way my angels — the people who cared for me at Sharp — do.”

Even after Arturo went home — four months after he first arrived at Sharp Coronado — he stayed connected with his new “family members.” Recently, he invited DiPane, Hejdak and others to his 46th birthday party, where he and his family continued to celebrate his experience at Sharp.

“While it felt like I was receiving special care just for me, I realize they give their best to everyone,” Arturo says. “Even before I woke up, they knew me through my family, and now they’re a part of our family.”

According to Hejdak, Arturo’s strength, resilience and hope, combined with his family’s support, were a beautiful thing to witness. Those memories and their continued connection with Arturo and his family are what help him and others who have cared for so many patients with COVID-19 keep going as the pandemic continues.

“For me, working with Arturo was definitely one of the best things to happen during this time of COVID,” Hejdak says. “It was an amazing thing to be part of, and I will never forget his spirit, his gratitude and all the love from his family.”

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