CORONA, California – Antonio Espinoza loved the Los Angeles Dodgers. He loved her so much that he was laid to rest in his favorite Dodgers jersey. His family and friends, including his 3-year-old son, dressed in an ocean of blue and white baseball shirts and hats in his honor.
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Espinoza died of Covid-19 at the age of 36 just days after receiving his first dose of a Covid vaccine. He was a hospice nurse who put his life in danger to help eager patients and others to peaceful death.
When Covid hit, it came as no surprise to his family that this “gentle giant,” as friends and family called him, stepped on the plate.
“His attitude was like,” No, I will not be afraid, “said Nancy Espinoza, his wife of 10.” This is our time to shine, “he told her.” I became a nurse for a reason. “
As the hospice nurse and chief nursing officer at Calstro Hospice in Montclair, Calif., Espinoza routinely made home visits, visited assisted living facilities, and conducted death visits where hospice nurses pronounced patients dead.
In addition to doctors and nurses, hospice workers are also household helpers, social workers, chaplains, and counselors. Over the past year, they have visited some of the highest risk environments such as: B. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities and patient homes.
The hospice requires intimate patient care, and the added safety requirements and need for personal protective equipment made it difficult, said Alicia Murray, chair of the board of directors of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association. But the hospice workers conformed, she said, knowing that if family members were not allowed to attend medical and long-term care facilities, they could be the only people who could comfort dying patients.
“They care for dying people and especially people who are dying from Covid and possibly spitting out the virus,” said Dr. Karl Steinberg, geriatrician and palliative care specialist who is the medical director of Hospice by the Sea in Solana Beach, California, and several nursing homes.
A few months after the pandemic, when Calstro Hospice began caring for covid patients, Espinoza helped develop a covid unit. Part of his job was to ensure that employees, including himself, had adequate personal protective equipment.
“Some people had difficulty getting all of the PPE equipment, but his office was adequately equipped,” said his wife. Just before he got sick, he was excited about a large shipment of dresses, N95 masks, booties and face shields from San Bernardino County, she said.
Espinoza fell ill a few days after his first dose of a covid vaccine on January 5, but went to work thinking it was a vaccine. “He had a sore throat and was feeling a little under the weather, but nothing special,” said Nancy Espinoza. His symptoms developed into a fever and chills and he tested positive for Covid on January 10th.
Seven other Calstro Hospice employees were also delighted during the pandemic, said Jennifer Arrington, director of patient care at Calstro Hospice.
According to Dr. Lucy Horton, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor in the Medical School of the University of California at San Diego, Espinoza was a victim of bad timing.
The virus incubation period averages five to seven days, she explained. “If you test positive a few days after the vaccine, chances are you were actually exposed before you even got your first dose,” she said.
Horton said people aren’t fully vaccinated until at least 14 days after their second dose of a two-dose vaccine or their first dose of a single-dose version. People aren’t reaping the benefits of the vaccine early after the first dose, she said.
“Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re still at risk,” said Horton, co-author of a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine about post-vaccination infection rates among healthcare workers in California. “Even if it’s so much lower, it’s still there.”
Espinoza knew he wanted to care for others and get into health care since he was in high school and realized that the Hispanic community needed Latino nurses in hospice care, his wife said. “His goal is to help the Hispanic community understand hospice care and not be afraid of it,” she said.
On January 15, Nancy Espinoza and the couple’s toddler, Ezekiel, spoke to Antonio by phone for the last time. “I love you” were the last words she heard her husband say.
She was allowed to visit him shortly before his death on January 25th. He was intubated with 25% oxygen.
Nancy Espinoza was alone in the room with her husband for the last time. “I just wanted to be able to hold his hand and pray for him,” she said. “I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone.”
This story was produced by KHN publishing the California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces extensive journalism on health issues. Alongside Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three most important operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a foundation that provides health information to the nation.
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