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22-year veteran therapist on long road to recovery following COVID-19 diagnosis, lung transplant

Byron Bolanos, a respiratory therapist at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport, is on his road to...
Byron Bolanos, a respiratory therapist at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport, is on his road to recovery following a COVID-19 diagnosis and a lung transplant.(Ragan Castille)
Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 5:19 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - A 22-year veteran respiratory therapist at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport is on his long road to recovery following a difficult battle with COVID-19 and a lung transplant.

Byron Bolanos, 51, was healthy, other than having high blood pressure, and took care of himself, according to his fiancé, Ragan Castille. She says he was diligent about wearing his face mask and encouraged everyone around him to do the same.

“Working in it, you never think it’s going to happen, and we’ve had other people in our department who have had it and never got hospitalized or anything,” Castille said. “Then when he got it, I was thinking, ‘We are going to get over this. He is going to be fine.’ I did not think this was going to happen.”

Bolanos had taken care of many COVID-19 patients, but back in February, he became one himself.

Castille, who also works in the COVID-19 unit, and his daughters were shocked his health declined as quickly as it did.

“On January 30, he tested positive,” Castille said. “February 1 was when he got admitted to the hospital. He was intubated February 5. He was cannulated with ECMO on February 13. From there is was bumpy roads, rollercoasters. He flew to Arizona on June 22 for evaluation.”

“I thought he would get over it quickly and it was just going to be a couple of days,” Faith Bolanos, one of his daughters, said. “But once I found out he was admitted to the hospital, I started to worry about what was going to happen. I never thought it would happen like this.”

“Yeah, when he tested positive, I thought he would be fine because he’s a person who never gets sick,” Cloe Bolanos, his daughter, said. “When he does get sick, he gets tough about it. I never expected it to come this far. Even when he got admitted into the hospital, I thought he would be fine and that he only needed oxygen for a few days, but it just kept getting worse and worse and became a lot of unknowns.”

Bolanos spent 141 days being cared for by his coworkers in the ICU at Ocshner LSU Health Shreveport on ECMO and a ventilator. His team of doctors decided his best chance for recovery would be a lung transplant.

The team at Ochsner gave him a “Warrior Walk” sendoff as Bolanos was transferred to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix for his lung transplant.

“Seeing one of our own team struggle with this disease for more than four months is a harsh reminder that this pandemic isn’t over. Vaccinations are the way to end this pandemic and stop the devastation we’ve witnessed the past year,” Sheree Stephens, chief nursing officer for Ochsner LSU Health, said back in June.

Bolanos underwent the lung transplant surgery on July 10. It was successful.

“He’s been doing great,” Castille said. “He is off the vent. ECMO was pulled the night of the transplant. He was put on nitric, but they were able to get him off of nitric through the night. They downsized his trach and are starting speaking valve trials to let him talk.”

A coworker of Bolanos’ started a GoFundMe for medical expenses. The family also had a fundraiser, selling t-shirts that read “Fighting with every breath” and tumblers printed with Bolanos’ favorite scripture: Psalm 119:105 - Thy Word Is a Lamp Unto My Feet and Light Unto My Path.

*NOTE: KSLA makes no representations or warranties of any kind about the authenticity, accuracy, or reliability of any GoFundMe campaign. Any donations you make to such campaigns are strictly at your own risk. If you have any questions related to the authenticity, accuracy, or reliability of a GoFundMe campaign, please contact GoFundMe directly or consult the GoFundMe Guarantee Policy.

“We are so thankful to everyone who has prayed, reached out, asked up how we are doing, and who have donated,” Cloe said. “We are so thankful to everyone who has supported us and helped us fly out to see our dad. Most importantly, thankful for everyone who has prayed for him because I know he would not be here if it were not for prayer.”

Castille is calling on the community to take COVID-19 seriously.

“It’s not a joke,” Castille said. “Just because you might not know someone that got it as bad as him, it’s still very serious. I can’t stand people who say it’s a joke, it’s not real. We can’t make this up. It’s very real and it’s not going anywhere.”

Bolanos will remain in Arizona for six months to be monitored.

As KSLA finished the interview, Bolanos called to let everyone know he had taken his first steps in physical therapy following his transplant.

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