‘I’m scared’: Toronto COVID-19 survivor who defied odds updates recovery, expresses fear

Click to play video: 'GTA COVID-19 survivor updates recovery, months after hospitalization'
GTA COVID-19 survivor updates recovery, months after hospitalization
WATCH ABOVE: One of the first severe cases of COVID-19 in the Toronto area was a 51-year-old man who was put on a ventilator for weeks. Doctors did not know if he would make it. Caryn Lieberman met with Mario Castillo in rehab last summer and she went back to check in on him now that he’s at home recovering – Jan 26, 2021

From the comfort of his home in Toronto’s north end, Mario Castillo Tamayo, who survived COVID-19, sits and reflects on the past year.

There are at least two months of 2020 he cannot remember.

Castillo was attached to a ventilator for around nine weeks, his oxygen levels so low, doctors did not expect he would survive.

He was the first COVID-19 patient to be intubated in the intensive care unit at Humber River Hospital.

“Slowly, slowly it’s more better now,” he said with a smile on his face, from the couch in his living room where he sits beside his wife Maricar Pagulayan.

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“I remember my hands (didn’t) move… Now I start to move,” he added, gesturing with his left hand.

Castillo is getting stronger every day. His progress is impressive.

But while his body may be healing, in his mind he battles the wounds of a long, difficult journey with COVID-19.

“I don’t want to remind the past, because I’m scared,” he said quietly.

His wife added, “It’s too hard for him to remember… Sometimes he can’t sleep at night… He keeps only thinking, thinking.”

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Castillo, who works as a mechanic, left work early one day in March with a fever and runny nose.

He said he spent the next week in bed before a friend suggested he seek medical care.

When he finally arrived in hospital, he was suffering from a sore throat, muscle pain and shortness of breath.

“After that, I don’t remember nothing until the first week of June,” he said.

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Doctor Jamie Spiegelman, an internal medicine and critical care specialist who treated Castillo, told Global News last summer that he was the hospital’s first patient to be intubated with COVID-19.

“Our experience was zero at our hospital, but we were trying to learn from other centres,” he said.

“At that time, Italy was exploding with these patients, so we had a lot of feedback from the doctors in Italy. New York was starting to get bad at that time … China … so we were learning from other places, but really, no one really knew how to treat these patients.”

Castillo spent weeks in rehab but is now recovering at home.

He is about to finish his physiotherapy program and is anxious to return to work one day.

But Pagulayan is concerned about his health and fears each day she returns from work that she could be bringing COVID-19 into the family home.

“Every time we come home we have to be careful because I know maybe his lungs still not that OK so we’re still scared for him,” she said.

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She also knows Castillo is afraid.

“Until now he’s still scared because the cases are getting high.”

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