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Young dad of 6 recovers from near-fatal COVID-19

By The Health News Team | August 19, 2020
Eli Centeno at Sharp Memorial Hospital with his wife, Eva, and their six children

After 58 days, Eli Centeno walked out of Sharp Memorial Hospital with his wife, Eva, and their six children.

Eli Centeno won't easily forget Independence Day this year. After eight weeks facing
COVID-19 at
Sharp Memorial Hospital, the 37-year-old was finally able to hug his six young children and return home.
Before getting the disease, Eli was healthy and in the prime of his life. Statistically, he shouldn't have been one of the sickest patients that Sharp Memorial caregivers have treated during the coronavirus pandemic.
"I never in my life thought I'd need this kind of care," says Eli, who exercised often, never smoked and rarely drank alcohol. "To get this sick, it was just unbelievable."
Eli was admitted to Sharp Memorial in May after several days of worsening symptoms. His oldest daughter had been ill with flu-like symptoms for a few days, followed by his wife, Eva. During Eva's illness, they learned a family member they'd briefly seen had tested positive for COVID-19. Then Eli began feeling sick and didn't get better.
Ultimately, 10 family members contracted the illness, though none became as sick as Eli.
"The shortness of breath was like nothing I've ever felt," says Eli. "It's like you're swimming in rough water and just trying to stay afloat. It felt like I was drowning."
Lifesaving measures
At Sharp Memorial, Eli's COVID-19 test came back positive, and his oxygen levels kept declining despite the use of both regular and high-flow devices that pump oxygen into the body through the nose. In a matter of days, he was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU), where he was put into a medically induced coma and connected to a ventilator.
But the breathing machine didn't work. Within five days, doctors could see that Eli's lungs were so inflamed by COVID-19 that he still wasn't getting enough oxygen.
In an attempt to save his life, Eli's doctors connected him to a lung bypass machine called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) — often a last resort for severely ill patients with coronavirus.
On ECMO, Eli's blood flowed through a machine outside of his body to remove carbon dioxide and add oxygen. Doctors also gave Eli a blood plasma treatment called intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG. Before the pandemic, the treatment was used for immune disorders but has shown promise as a COVID-19 therapy.
In total, Eli spent six weeks on a ventilator and one week on ECMO before doctors felt he was recovered enough to wean off the machines. His only memory while sedated was hearing his daughter, Elizabeth, sing "You've Got a Friend in Me"; the song from "Toy Story" is a favorite between them. Elizabeth's singing was part of a recording the family made, which Eli's nurses played in his room while he was unconscious.
A sweet farewell, then a long recovery
After the ICU, Eli stayed in a hospital unit for patients recovering from COVID-19, where he relearned how to sit up, eat and walk. He lost 40 pounds during his illness, as well as significant muscle tone.

Eli Centeno at Sharp Memorial Hospital

Eli Centeno, shortly before leaving Sharp Memorial Hospital and returning home to his family.

On the day of his release from the hospital, employees lined the hallways to cheer as Eli saw his wife and six children for the first time.
"The sendoff was amazing," says Eli. "When the elevators opened, I just couldn't believe it. I felt such support and love. It made me realize that God put me in the right hands, and these people right here did everything in their power to keep me alive. I'm never going to forget that."
At first sight, Eli's 3-year-old son, Micah, ran straight for his dad, who scooped him up in his arms.
"I have no idea how I picked him up," Eli says. "It must have just been adrenaline. I was still so weak."
Back at home, Eli continues his slow recovery. He's building strength, attending physical therapy and walking a little more every day. He also faces recurring anxiety attacks, common in individuals who've had physical and emotional trauma.
Eli, who is self-employed and the sole earner for his family of eight, may not be well enough to return to his work tinting windows for three months. He says he tries to remain focused on the blessings in his life and put his faith in God.

Eli Centeno, at home with his wife, Eva, and their six children

Eli Centeno, 37, is back at home with his wife, Eva, and their six children after spending 58 days at Sharp Memorial Hospital while being treated for COVID-19.

"I am thankful every day," Eli says. "For 58 days, I couldn't see my beautiful wife, my six children. I almost lost everything. I'm not going to waste this second chance."

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