After being hospitalized at Bothwell Regional Health Center with COVID-19 for more than two months, James Navarro had a proper sendoff from dozens of staff members as he finally headed home Wednesday afternoon.

“It feels good, it feels good going home,” Navarro, 52, told the Democrat before he left his hospital room for the last time. “(I’m looking forward to) being at home to have the opportunity to recover more … catch up (with) the fresh air.”

Navarro’s granddaughter, Shylee Baez, was at the hospital Wednesday to drive him home, and to record his sendoff celebration.

“(I’m) pretty excited, I’m ready for him,” Baez said.

Navarro was tested for COVID-19 on April 17 and was told the next day he had a positive result. He isolated at home for a few days, but during a home visit, a Pettis County Health Center nurse called the Pettis County Ambulance District to transport Navarro to Bothwell.

That same nurse, Holly Douglas, was at Wednesday afternoon’s celebration.

“It’s amazing he’s finally getting to go home,” she said.

Since that ambulance trip, Navarro spent more than two months at Bothwell receiving treatment and then going through physical therapy.

“It’s been, there are no words for it,” Navarro said of his time at Bothwell. “They’ve been good and at this point I am satisfied, happy with their service.

“I’d like to thank the nurses in ICU, I remember a couple of them: Nicole, Nikki, Mike and my (physical) therapists Regina and Brittney and Emily,” he added.

Dr. Traci Kristofik, a hospitalist at Bothwell, admitted Navarro when he initially came to the hospital and started his treatment.

“We tried to do a lot of conservative measures to keep him off the ventilator but initially I had to make the decision to put him on a ventilator, which was scary at the time because many people don’t survive once they’re placed on a ventilator,” she said. “I kept an eye on him in between times when I was off and when I came back I got him back as a patient again. The nurses diligently worked on changing positions for him and helping to get him weaned off the ventilator.”

Kristofik said Navarro did his rehab exercises even when his physical therapists weren’t present, something she said most patients don’t do. She said he had “the drive” to get better.

“It’s very exciting to see him do so well. I remember when he got off the ventilator he had the determination to even stand up and he’s always had this great determination to get better and get well and get home,” she said. “So to be able to see him accomplish that goal is really exciting. He’s put a lot of effort into his rehab.”

In late April, Navarro received a convalescent plasma transfusion as part of a study led by the Mayo Clinic. Plasma is one of several possible treatments being studied as the global medical community searches for a treatment for COVID-19. The plasma was from someone who had recovered from COVID-19 and contained antibodies that are capable of fighting the virus.

Kristofik said it’s hard to say if the transfusion was successful but she said it could have played a part in his recovery along with being in good health prior to his COVID-19 diagnosis.

As Navarro continues to recover at home, Kristofik said he will continue with physical therapy and regaining his strength. Since the long-term effects of COVID-19 are unknown, Kristofik said they will follow-up closely to see how his body responds.

As the nursing staff said their goodbyes Wednesday afternoon to Navarro and he was situated in a wheelchair, dozens of staff members, from nurses to administrators, lined the hallway outside his hospital room leading to the second-floor elevator. Navarro had been calm yet excited during the last few minutes he spent in his room Wednesday afternoon.

“Are you excited to go home?” a nurse asked as she helped gather his things.

“Yes!” Navarro replied.

Navarro was handed an empty glass vase to hold on his lap as he left the hospital which would be filled with flowers that had been passed out to staff. Banjo music played by staff member Eric Walton helped brighten up an already happy occasion. 

Once Navarro was wheeled into the hallway and received his first few flowers, tears flooded his eyes and his face was full of overwhelming emotion as he saw smiling, applauding staff members lining both sides of the hallway, ready to see him off.

The applause was even louder when Navarro reached the first floor after a quick elevator ride, with dozens more staff members excited for their long-term patient’s recovery. Kristofik, who was pushing the wheelchair, paused for a few moments in the lobby to let Navarro take it all in. Baez then brought the car around to the front entrance as staff helped Navarro make his way to the front passenger seat, oxygen tank and vase of flowers in tow.

With a few more goodbyes and a simple wave to his admirers, Navarro was off, finally headed home.

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Nicole Cooke is the editor for the Sedalia Democrat, overseeing all newsroom operations and assisting with news coverage of Sedalia and Pettis County. She can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.

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