Two Emporia families are praying for a miracle as loved ones fight for their lives against COVID-19.
Gonzalo Peralta, 55, and David Oliva, 45, are currently hospitalized at Stormont Vail in Topeka, having been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus within days of each other.
Both are currently intubated and in medically-induced comas as the virus has attacked their systems.
Gonzalo Peralta is a familiar face for many people around town, whether through his many years of playing soccer or his two longtime jobs. He’s been a team member at Tyson for the past 26 years, as well as janitor and maintenance for Victory Fellowship Church since 2014. For those who know him, Gonzalo has always been a strong presence, both physically and emotionally.
“My husband was 100 percent healthy when this happened,” Chrysanne Peralta, Gonzalo’s wife of nearly 19 years, said. “He didn’t have any underlying health conditions. He’s worked at Tyson for 26 years and has never missed a day of work before this.”
Chrysanne said her family’s experience with COVID-19 started when she and her son, Roberto, got sick. Chrysanne, who works part-time at the West Emporia BP gas station across the street from Tyson, had already been furloughed from her full-time employer when the stay-at-home orders were announced. Now, with a confirmed case of COVID-19, she was furloughed from both jobs. Roberto, who is living at home, also got tested. For them, the symptoms were relatively mild in comparison — coughs and fevers.
Roberto, who plays soccer for Neosho County Community College, even kept up with his weight training and exercise throughout his ordeal.
“My grandson that lives with us never got tested because he was never having symptoms,” Chrysanne said. “I don’t know if he was asymptomatic or he was just smart enough because he stayed in his room most of the time anyway, or he just didn’t get it because I was cleaning so much. He was never really close to any of us.”
On April 27, Chrysanne took her husband’s temperature. Gonzalo had started coughing about a week prior — a persistent, dry cough that seemed more like a tickle in his throat than anything else. He hadn’t had any other symptoms or been running a fever.
That day, however, he did. With two documented cases in the household already, and Gonzalo’s main place of employment, he was able to get tested that day. The test came back positive.
Gonzalo’s symptoms progressed.
“He had a lot of coughing, fevers, chills,” Chrysanne said. “He just could not get warm. He had a lot of body aches. That lasted for about a week.”
Chrysanne had been monitoring her husband’s oxygen levels at home with equipment she had leftover from her mother’s fight with lung cancer and COPD. The morning of May 3, Chrysanne said Gonzalo was unable to catch his breath and was acting confused and disoriented. His oxygen levels were at about 78 percent — far below what is considered normal. She called Newman Regional Health and told them she was bringing him into the emergency room.
“My husband is a very strong man,” she said. “When we got there and they came to get him out of the car, he asked for a wheelchair. That’s not my husband.”
Gonzalo was admitted to the hospital and started on oxygen therapy, but the amount he needed kept increasing. The hospital had been consulting with specialists at Stormont Vail throughout his treatment, and after a few days of no marked improvement, the pulmonologist said it was time to intubate and transfer Gonzalo to Topeka. Chrysanne had been told she would be able to speak to her husband before he was intubated and put into a medically-induced coma, but his condition worsened.
He was intubated May 8.
Chrysanne said she was unable to see her husband for several days, told that it was not possible to set up a video calls into the room, until Stormont Vail’s palliative care unit stepped in. Palliative care is similar to hospice care in that its purpose is to provide comfort care to a patient, though unlike hospice care, it is not reserved for patients who are at their end of life.
“They set up the video chat immediately and we were able to start video Zoom calls so that we could talk to him, so he could hear us,” Chrysanne said. Gonzalo has six sisters and three brothers — all but one live in Mexico — and Chrysanne has devised a way to get them into the calls as well. It’s been a comfort for the family during a time when they cannot be at their loved one’s bedside, especially given the language barrier that exists between them.
“They do not speak English and we do not know Spanish, so the communication between us and them is very hard,” Chrysanne said, adding that her husband spoke to his family often. “I have to use Google Translate and pray to God what I put on there is what is really being said because it doesn’t always read right when you do it on a translator.”
Chrysanne said the COVID-19 virus has attacked her husband’s lungs, kidneys and is causing his blood to thicken. At first, he required medication to regulate his blood pressure, though now his body is doing that on its own.
“They have started a CRRT (continuous renal replacement therapy) machine, which is similar to a dialysis machine for his kidneys because he’s retaining fluid,” Chrysanne said. “So it is affecting not only his lungs, but his kidneys also. [Friday evening] they called me and said that his pH level on his blood oxygen was the lowest they’ve seen it since the 10th, so they said that there was a lot of acidity in his system.
“When he breathes in on the ventilator, he is not being able to breathe out the carbon dioxide, so it’s building up in his system and, from what they told me, it is similar to cooking a piece of beef liver. That it’s real sloppy when you go to put it on the cook, but after it is done, it is really tough and hard, and that’s the way his lungs were last night because of acidity and not being able to get off the carbon dioxide.”
Chrysanne said the doctors keep telling her Gonzalo has a long road ahead of him. He’s received different treatments, including plasma infusions and the experimental Remdesivir — a broad-spectrum antiviral medication.
The fight against COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint, the doctors say. They see progress and decline, but she knows her husband doesn’t give up easily.
On Friday, Gonzalo was on another decline and the family feared the worst. By Saturday morning, however, his numbers had improved again.
“The other night when I was talking to him, I explained it to him like it’s a soccer game,” Chrysanne said. “He needs to score some goals and keep going, because we want to win this game, because that is our family. We are a soccer family. It’s kind of crazy, if you ever watched him play soccer — he’s a defender like his son and if he would get knocked down, he’d just lay on the ground for a few minutes just to take a break and then he’d get up. Always giving us a scare. I feel he was doing that [Friday] night with scaring us because he’s just a very, very funny man.”
David Oliva is an outgoing and funny man who enjoys fishing and karaoke. His wife, Kimberlie, said her husband has a strong faith in God and is fairly religious. He’s hardworking, having worked at Simmons Pet Foods for the past 14 years, starting out when it was still Menu Pet Foods.
Like Gonzalo, David was a healthy man with no preexisting conditions.
“He was never sick,” Kimberlie said. “He was healthy.”
David has been on ventilator support at Stormont Vail in Topeka since May 10, six days after his original COVID-19 diagnosis.
Kimberlie said her husband started feeling sick about a week before his diagnosis. Because Kimberlie has a preexisting heart condition and he didn’t want to risk her getting sick, David left the house to stay somewhere else — just in case.
“He thought he just had the flu,” Kimberlie said.
But by May 4, David’s symptoms had worsened.
“[Kimberlie] has a video of him from earlier that day, messaging her and telling her that he needed help and he was ready to go to the hospital,” April Moellenkamp-Schooley, a family friend who has been staying with Kimberlie since David was admitted, said. “You could already tell that he was really sick in the video.”
David was admitted to Newman Regional Health the day he was tested for the virus. His condition did not improve. A previously healthy man with no preexisting conditions himself — Kimberlie said her husband has not missed a day of work at Simmons Pet Food in 14 years — David started reporting discomfort to his health care team in Emporia.
Lab work indicated that he was in the early stages of a heart attack and they began to get him prepped to transfer to Stormont Vail on May 10. While en route to Topeka, David coded in the ambulance.
Since then, his prognosis has been grim.
“David’s been on 100 percent ventilator support since he got to Topeka; they haven’t been able to turn it off,” Moellenkamp-Schooley said. “He’s medically paralyzed, he’s in a medically-induced coma.”
The virus has attacked his liver, his heart and his lungs. David has received two plasma transfusions. Kimberlie said her husband was the first to receive the Remdesivir drug in Topeka because of his condition.
The virus has caused David’s blood to thicken, causing blood clots in his legs. The clots are so severe that there is a chance they may need to amputate. When he first arrived at Stormont Vail, David’s doctors gave him a 10 - 20 percent chance for survival.
Now, they aren’t even giving him that much.
The doctors called Kimberlie Sunday morning and said David had taken a “turn for the worst.” They had planned on removing the ventilator and performing a tracheotomy to reduce stress on his body.
“They said he’s too unstable for the trach and too unstable to put a feeding tube in, so basically they have exhausted everything they have and they’ve thrown everything at him,” Moellencamp-Schooley said. “It’s just a wait-and-see at this point, to see if anything turns around.”
So, as they wait, Kimberlie is praying for a miracle.
How to help
As of Monday, both Gonzalo and David were still in critical condition.
Both Kimberlie and Chrysanne said prayers are the most appreciated way to connect with their families right now.
Fundraisers have been set up for both the Peraltas and the Olivas, with the goal to offset the financial burden and stress that is taking a toll on the families back in Emporia.
Chrysanne said she and her husband are the type that never ask for help; that’s why they both work two jobs to make ends meet. But, with her being furloughed from both her employers and Gonzalo being ill and his short-term disability payments not yet kicking in, things are tight. She had filed for unemployment, but with so many cases in the queue her money has not started yet.
The fundraiser has brought in more than $17,000 so far, which Chrysanne said she hopes will bring Gonzalo relief when he can come home.
“Hopefully when he gets released I can show him that we have some money, because we both stress about it constantly,” she said. “We both work two jobs a piece to support our family, so I don’t want him coming out and feeling like he needs to just go straight back to work even not feeling good. We appreciate all the help and we’re just so grateful for everybody to be helping us. We are very grateful.”
To donate to the Peralta family visit www.facebook.com/donate/574079316548167.
For Kimberlie, the financial situation has also been a struggle. Although Simmons has been working with her to help get her husband’s benefits in order, her own employer has not been as accommodating as she struggles with her husband’s situation.
“To go from a two-income household to no income — I mean, it’s been very hard,” she said. “We’re going to have medical bills to pay.”
So far, a little more than $5,000 of a $10,000 goal has been raised for the Olivas. To donate to the Oliva family, visit www.facebook.com/donate/251384406215120/3390656117629158.
Both Chrysanne and Kimberlie urged the community to continue to observe and respect guidelines put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“Take this seriously,” Kimberlie said, her voice breaking. “Please.”
“People don’t think it’s as serious as it actually is until it’s staring you right in your face,” Moellenkamp-Schooley added. “He was a perfectly healthy 45-year-old man.”