Jesse Garcia, MD

Jesse Garcia, MD, is director of Vascular Access Surgery for MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute. Susan Garcia, RN, his wife, is a nurse in the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The way I now look at life, is that I’m lucky to be here. I spend as much time as I can with my wife, my kids, and my friends. The day I came home from the hospital was one of the happiest of my life. I was weak and had lost 15 pounds, but I hugged my girls and wife. They are precious to me, and I want to be around for as long as I can.

My wife, Susan, and I contracted COVID-19. She is an Intensive Care Unit nurse, and we both started having symptoms on the same day: March 22. Initially, we had fevers, body aches, and headaches. The next day, she was having trouble breathing so we both went to the emergency room to get evaluated and tested. We were discharged home and then quarantined while we waited for the results. I rested and took acetaminophen, and Susan and I took turns caring for our two girls, ages three and five. I knew something was wrong, though, and I thought it was very likely that I had contracted COVID-19.

Later that week, I started coughing and difficulty breathing. With my shortness of breath and worsening symptoms, we went back to the hospital to be evaluated. I waited in the car with my mask on and with the kids, while Susan went to the clinic. That’s when I really started having breathing problems. When she came back to the car, I went into the clinic. They put a pulse oximeter on me, and my oxygen saturation was in the 80s. They immediately sent me to the Emergency Department, and a chest x-ray showed I had infiltrates. I called Susan and told her they were admitting me to the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU).

I spent five days in the MICU. My symptoms got worse on the second or third day. I remember my breathing was shallow, and I was taking 30 to 40 breaths a minute. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t take a deep breath. I remember I had a coughing attack once, and my vitals were terrible. My blood pressure was low, and I was tachycardic. I was on five or six liters of oxygen, just to maintain saturation above 90.

They took another chest X-ray, which showed worsening infiltrates. The patient next door to me was intubated, and I was worried I would be next. The whole time, I just tried to relax. Anything I did would tire me out. Just talking took my breath away. My body was so weak, and I had no reserve. It really felt like a truck had hit me.

The nurses and doctors were great. The whole unit was a negative pressure unit. There were no visitors allowed, but I could face time with my wife and kids. I would just smile and wave, as I really was too weak to talk. My Dad would call from the Philippines and speak to a nurse on the unit every day. He was really worried about me.

The medical team had me lie prone, which really helped my breathing. On the fourth day, I finally started feeling better. On the fifth day of my hospitalization, I was no longer using supplemental oxygen, and I was transferred to the floor. On day seven, I was able to finally be discharged home and hug my family.

Susan recovered without needing hospitalization, and luckily, neither of my kids got sick. I took it easy when I got home, before I thought about returning to work. The Occupational Health Department was really good about making sure I was cleared to return to work. People really don’t realize the amazing work nurses, respiratory therapists, and the whole medical team does to care for just one person. They truly are the front lines.

I am 48 years old. My wife is younger than I am. I play basketball, golf, and consider myself very healthy. When I was a child, I had very mild asthma, but never used inhalers. I have no other underlying medical issues. This virus can spread easily, and it does not discriminate. Since Susan and I both work in health care, we understand there are risks, and there are things we have to do to care for our patients.

I do think about the future and wonder if this virus will come back worse. I think COVID-19 is going to change the way we practice medicine, and it’s going to change the way we live. But change can also be good. I think telemedicine will improve health care. In my field, I have a lot of patients for whom it can be difficult to come into a clinic, but they would be receptive to phone call or video chats.

I am back to work, and I do feel fine. I have a lot of goals I want to accomplish career-wise but being with family is most important. Going forward, I’m trying to spend as much time with those who matter to me, and I’m focused on making the most of it. I’m happy and blessed to be here.

Jesse Garcia, MD, with his wife, Susan, at MedStar Washington Hospital Center; Dr. Garcia with his family, including his father, Jorge Garcia, MD, (bottom image, pictured far left) who championed the cardiac surgery program at MedStar Washington Hospital Center beginning in 1972.