NEW YORK - When Magali Esteva arrived in March to help the city’s frontline workers, it was her first trip ever to New York.
“It’s a beautiful city, for sure, but it almost felt like a ghost town,” she recalled.
The volunteer EMT from Houston stayed in Times Square and worked at Mount Sinai, where she says her job was to help nurses and doctors treat the growing numbers of COVID19 patients.
“To sit with [the patients] so they wouldn’t pass by themselves,” she said.
As a healthy person who exercised regularly, Esteva admitted she was scared during her first encounter with a COVID patient, but said that quickly melted into resolve.
“After seeing how sick this person was you know it just disappeared, I didn’t think anything of it after that, and I knew I just wanted to help,” Esteva said.
After about two months, Esteva left New York for San Francisco to continue volunteering. She returned to Houston in early June, quarantined for two weeks, and then reunited with friends and family.
She says that’s when she got sick, after dining inside restaurants.
“First of all, I was upset, I was upset with myself,” said Esteva.
Between June and July, Esteva made four trips to the emergency room as pneumonia spread across both lungs, her oxygen saturation slumped, and her fever climbed. After she was admitted, she had the choice between plasma therapy or a ventilator. She selected the plasma, and fortunately for her, the treatment seemed to work. Her condition improved.
Esteva was released from the hospital days later, but she left with a new perspective.
“It broke my heart to see these people without their families, not being able to see their families or not being able to say goodbye to their families,” she said of the patients she met in New York and San Francisco. “That was my first thought. I can’t die, I need to see my daughter, I need to see my parents, I have so much to do.”
More than three months after contracting the virus, the EMT is still fighting to get well. She was recently cleared to return to the gym and will continue to use her nebulizer and inhaler. She believes her experience as frontline provider turned COVID survivor underscores the importance of everyone wearing a mask.
“Mask up, it does help. Don’t do it for yourself, do it for the other people around you,” she said.