While many COVID-19 patients are making a full recovery, the more serious cases have been found in people who are middle-aged and elderly. People with weakened immune systems and other underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or chronic lung disease, also experience more serious cases. These patients have a harder time recovering from COVID-19 and in some cases can deteriorate quickly.
Western Massachusetts has not been spared of the agony that this human tragedy is leaving behind as courageous doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers battle daily to save lives.
COVID-19 Bring New Challenges
“This new virus brings challenges for healthcare workers as they care for patients and their families, “said Dr. Benjamin Freda, hospitalist and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, who is part of the COVID-19 care team at Baystate Wing Hospital. “In order to keep this virus from spreading, hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living complexes have kept patients separate from families and visitors.”
“Our team is caring for patients and also helping them connect with their families and loved ones while in the hospital using an iPad and FaceTime,” said Dr. Freda. “In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are experiencing the loss of loved ones and in some cases we are helping to provide a measure of closure for families.”
Father and daughter diagnosed with COVID-19
Anthony D’Amato of Belchertown has left behind a mourning family who so dearly loved the man they called “dad” and “grandpa.”
When the news broke of COVID-19 in the United States, Anthony’s granddaughters, Melanie Ciesluk and Alyssa Maggi were both immediately concerned for her grandfather’s health and safety.
“Although he lives alone, my mom who lives next door to him is his primary caregiver,” said Ciesluk. “As the mass panic of COVID-19 grew, I began to be concerned for my mom as well. She works a few jobs, one of them at a grocery store.”
Then the unthinkable happened.
“Never in my wildest nightmares did I imagine that both my mom and grandfather would test positive for COVID-19 within one week of each other,” Ciesluk said.
Her mom, Gina D’Amato, was nervous about contracting the virus since she was at risk because of where she worked.
“I was very worried that I might give it to my dad and my girls. I told my dad not to go to the store and I would pick up what he needed. Then I got sick, and I wasn’t feeling well enough to take care of him the way that I usually did. After that we relied on phone calls to check in and make sure he was doing okay,” D’Amato said.
Then, one morning when he didn’t answer the phone, she discovered he had fallen and had been alone on the floor all night unable to pick himself up.
D’Amato called the ambulance and the EMTs transported her father to Baystate Wing Hospital.
“Five days later I found myself in the same ambulance being admitted to Baystate Wing Hospital in the COVID Unit just two rooms down from my father after we both tested positive for COVID-19. The doctors, nurses and staff went above and beyond to care of my father and for me,” D’Amato said, whose recovery was under the watchful eye of Dr. Freda and Dr. Jill Levin, hospitalist, of the Baystate Wing COVID-19 care team.
“The staff were concerned about me and how I was feeling both physically and mentally. Dr. Freda is very knowledgeable and shared with me what he knew about COVID-19 and the treatment plan for me. Not only is he a wonderful doctor, he is a very caring person,” she added.
Baystate team provides compassionate end-of-life care
Every morning when the nurse came in to do D’Amato’s EKG, she would ask how her father did throughout the night.
“He was stable for the first few days, but then the doctors prepared me for what I hoped wasn’t true. His condition was declining and it was unlikely he would be able to fight this or make it through," D'Amato said.
When it came time for D’Amato to be discharged after spending nine days in the hospital, given the circumstances, Dr. Freda thought it would be good for her to go and see her father. “The morning of my discharge I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and sadness that this would be the last time I saw my father. I told him that I loved him and I was sorry I had to leave him there. I knew he would pass alone without his family around him,” D’Amato said.
Dr. Freda helped her prepare for what was to come and walked out of the hospital with D’Amato telling her he would “take care of my father as if he were his own father.”
“He had spoken to one of the nurses about how it would be a good idea to get a picture of me saying goodbye to my father before I was discharged. I am now so glad they gave me this opportunity and that the hospital staff made it possible for my father to receive the anointing of the sick by his priest over the phone,” D'Amato said.
Alyssa Maggi, Anthony’s granddaughter noted that there is nothing that can prepare you “to say goodbye to someone who was once so strong, but slowly fading away. It was so surreal and heartbreaking to see firsthand the pain and suffering he was facing and I wished I could hold his hand and comfort him. I was grateful, however, that my sister, my mom and my grandpa and I were able to have a group Facetime to see each with the use of the hospital’s iPad with the help of his nurse. He told me he loved me, which in itself is usually no easy feat to get out of him – a retired soldier and police officer,” she said.
Then, 17 days after being admitted to the hospital, Anthony D’Amato passed away peacefully with his nurse and care team by his side.
D’Amato said that Dr. Freda and all the staff at Baystate Wing Hospital “should be commended for all their hard work and dedication,” during this unprecedented pandemic.
Physical and emotional recovery from COVID-19
“I am grateful that I beat COVID-19 with the help of so many wonderful doctors, nurses and the care team at Baystate Wing. My physical recovery started when got I home, but my emotional recovery has yet to begin. Losing a loved one and not being able to say goodbye with traditional funeral services that bring family and friends together to grieve the loss of a loved one makes closure more difficult. These are very challenging times for my family as I know it is for many other families as well,” D’Amato said.
If you or someone you know has experienced loss due to COVID-19, learn more about the resources available.