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'Miracle patient' released from Az hospital after 5 mos. of COVID treatment

A Phoenix-area man celebrated as a 'miracle patient' by officials at Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix was released Tuesday after enduring nearly five months in intensive care because of COVID-19.

Jose Jimenez, 60, celebrated his birthday on Sunday, and on Tuesday he was finally discharged from the hospital, said officials from Banner's teaching hospital in Phoenix. 

Jimenez was admitted to the hospital's emergency room on June 27, and has been hospitalized ever since, said officials with Banner. During his hospital stay, Jimenez spent 87 days on a ventilator and on ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Jimenz's endured one of the hospital’s longest ECMO stints without the patient needing a lung transplant, Banner officials said.

"A lot of patients are in acute respiratory distress syndrome, and when they are so sick that all our conventional therapies have failed them, we put them on ECMO," said Stacy Davis, a registered nurse, and the ECMO coordinator at Banner.

An ECMO circuit pulls the patient's blood out of their body, adding oxygen and removing CO2. The blood is then warmed and then sent back to the patient, Davis said. "So the machine acts as an artificial lung until some time has gone by, and their body is able to heal, and then as the body heals, the lungs will start to pick up doing some work again," she said.

Jimenez was on the machine for 89 days, which Davis called a" significant length of run," and he suffered from some complications during the treatment, she said. Despite this, the hospital's staff were able to ween him from ECMO.

Arizona now leading nation in new COVID cases

Jimenez's release from the hospital comes while Arizona continues to have a stubbornly high rate of COVID-19 cases during a third wave of infections.

On August 16, there were 4,041 new COVID-19 infections reported in the state, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. While the number of new cases each day decreased somewhat over the next two months, health officials said that the pace of new infections did not drop as much as they expected, and flattened out at a high rate. Since the beginning of August, there have been more than 260,000 new coronavirus infections reported in Arizona.

Over the last six months, there have been 18,637 people in Arizona hospitalized for COVID-19, representing about 6 percent of the total cases. After a relative lull during the summer, the rate of new infections ramped back up again in August, and has not returned to the formerly low levels.

The new cases have meant continued pressures on hospitals throughout the state.

On Tuesday, just as Jimenez was released from Banner's hospital in Phoenix, roughly two-thirds of the state's hospital beds were in use, and 23 percent were because of COVID-19 infections, or nearly 2,000 beds. In the state's intensive care units, this rate was even higher, with COVID-19 patients filling up 526 intensive care beds, or about 30 percent.

Arizona has led the nation in the most recent surge of COVID-19 cases, and as Joshua LaBaer, director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, said during a press conference last week, the rates of transmission, hospitalization and ICU cases should be decreasing, but haven't.

"We have not seen an appreciable drop in weeks now, and that surprises me. So, I think that reminds us that we're not back to normal yet," he said.

The positivity rate for new infections is as high as 15 percent in some Arizona counties, and the state Health Department reported 260 new deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday.

And, while vaccines have been available for nearly 11 months, just 59.8 percent of the state's population has been vaccinated, and about 64 percent of those eligible. Last week, the CDC allowed children 5-11 to begin receiving their COVID shots.

"It's been very heavy job," Davis said, to take care of COVID-19 patients, describing the complexity of treatments and medications that kept Jimenez alive these last few months. "We've been working tirelessly for over a year and a half now taking care of these patients," she said.

Before he was infected by COVID-19, Jimenez was healthy, worked two jobs and weighed 200 pounds. "During his long hospitalization, he lost about 60 pounds and is extremely weak," the hospital said.

Over the last few weeks Jimenez was at the Select Specialty Hospital inside Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, and was transferred to Banner's rehabilitation hospital, where he will spend time further building his strength and gaining stability to walk again, Banner officials said. 

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In a statement from the hospital, Jimenez thanked the medical professionals who cared for him, saying they “never gave up on me. I remember hearing them telling me I was going to make it and to keep fighting. I’m a miracle."

“I’ve missed a lot, including my son’s wedding, but I’m looking forward to being home for the holidays and spending time with family," Jimenez said. "I’m going to be doing a lot of educating on the importance of getting the vaccine, too."

Banner University Medical Center Phoenix is a large teaching hospital that has been in operation since 1911, and is part of Banner Health.

Based in Arizona, Banner Health manages 30 acute-care hospitals, including hospitals in this state as well as California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, and Wyoming. This includes Banner University Medical Center and Banner University Medical South, as well as the Cancer Center and the Diamond Children's Medical Center in Tucson.

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courtesy Banner Health

Jose Jimenez is released from Banner University Medical Center Phoenix on Tuesday.

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