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South Carolina COVID-19 Long-Hauler Family Worries About Long Term Health, Finances

Robert Barrios, 46, pictured with his 12-year-old daughter Jessica. Barrios was an essential worker in a warehouse before he got COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized on a ventilator several times. (Courtesy)
Robert Barrios, 46, pictured with his 12-year-old daughter Jessica. Barrios was an essential worker in a warehouse before he got COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized on a ventilator several times. (Courtesy)

Summer Barrios of Seneca, South Carolina, is thankful her husband is alive.

The Barrios family held their breath as Robert Barrios tested positive for COVID-19 this summer. He’s been navigating long-term health complications ever since.

Back in July, the 46-year-old father was overseeing shipping and receiving as a warehouse manager. He called his wife when he started feeling ill on the job, she says. He can’t recall anything from that day, Summer Barrios says, because of how sick he felt.

He was put on a ventilator four times, experienced intensive care unit delirium and aspirated multiple times from a collapsed lung, which caused bacterial pneumonia. Doctors say he may have lung disease brought on by damage from COVID-19 and pneumonia, she says.

The trache on his neck left scarring, and he remains on supplemental oxygen now that he’s home. Now, his lungs are only operating at about 50% capacity, she says.

While he’s still struggling with the health impacts of the coronavirus, Summer Barrios says the family is just grateful to have him home after “a long 81 days” in the hospital.

Robert Barrios was out of the hospital in time for the pair’s 10th anniversary, which also falls on their 12-year-old daughter Jessica’s birthday. After the traumatic experience with Robert Barrio’s health — at one point, medical professionals were telling Summer Barrios to start thinking about her husband’s funeral — they decided it was the right time to renew their vows.

With just Jessica and a pastor present, Robert and Summer Barrios commemorated their love.

“When he finally came out [of the hospital], the vow renewal was definitely not the first thing on my mind. It was protecting him and protecting our immune-compromised daughter,” she says. “We were blessed that people stepped up to help us make that happen.”

Now that Robert Barrios is home, the financial hardships have begun to sink in. Robert Barrios was the sole provider in their one-income household. Through his work, he received 40 hours worth of COVID-19 pay and applied for short-term disability, a payment that amounts to $300 a week.

“It runs out basically at the end of December, which is really hard for just about anybody to live on, let alone somebody that has now two medically complex people at home,” she says.

The medical bills, in addition to regular bills, are flooding in and weighing on the family as they closely monitor Robert Barrios’ health, she says.

Their daughter Jessica says life has been “much easier since he came home.” She says she’s a daddy-daughter girl; the two have a strong bond.

Jessica reminds others to be responsible by wearing a mask and social distancing “because one day this could be you. You never know when your life could be perfect one minute and crazy the next, basically.”

Summer Barrios says the rollercoaster experience over the last few months has influenced how her and her husband feel about who should be leading the country through the pandemic.

Prior to testing positive for COVID-19, Robert Barrios supported President Trump. But once he saw how Trump was acting, even after the president’s own coronavirus diagnosis, his opinion changed, Summer Barrios says.

“We just hope whoever wins, whether it be Trump or [Joe] Biden, that people start listening to the medical professionals,” she says.

She says frontline medical professionals and COVID-19 survivors have been “forgotten by the administration.”

Summer Barrios is now part of a nonpartisan group called COVID Survivors for Change, a network of people who advocate for better health policies and share first-hand stories of the toll COVID-19 takes on families. Saving lives should be an issue that everyone gets behind, she says, no matter how they lean politically.

“I do believe that this should be a bipartisan issue where everybody comes together for the sake of this country,” she says, “and to honor the ones that passed needlessly from this virus.”

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

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