Patient shuns COVID-19 vaccine, then changes mind after hospitalization
UC Davis Medical Center care team helps 42-year-old man navigate post-COVID complications
Saul Torres considers himself lucky to be alive after contracting COVID-19 and suffering from a rare neurological condition.
From his hospital bed on the 14th floor of UC Davis Medical Center, Torres, a father of two small children, said he lamented not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. His doctors believe it could have prevented Torres’ hospitalization for Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder triggered by serious viral and bacterial infections.
Torres was diagnosed with COVID-19 on July 9. He recovered at home and went back to work – until the dizzy spells, weakness and numbness in his toes were unbearable. He then spent 10 days in the hospital where his providers successfully stopped Guillain-Barré from its worse-case-scenario course, paralysis.
“I didn’t take the vaccine seriously and this hasn’t been easy,” he said.
By the time he was discharged last weekend, Torres had lost more than 40 pounds since his saga began. He will use a walker until he regains strength in his legs.
Torres, 42, is one of an alarming number of patients who are being admitted to hospitals around Sacramento and the nation this summer with COVID-19 or its complications.
Many have been ill from the very infectious Delta variant. Nearly all of these patients during this fourth surge of the pandemic are unvaccinated for COVID-19.
“We had talked about the vaccine with my family, but there was often a lack of information, and we didn’t believe in it. We said we were never going to get sick,” said Torres, an immigrant from Mexico City who speaks mostly Spanish.
“Thank God I didn’t die,” Torres said in a bedside interview two days before being discharged. “But a lot of people aren’t this lucky.”
Only 30% of Latinos in Sacramento County are fully vaccinated
Torres’ decision to avoid getting the shot is not uncommon in Sacramento County, where just 52% of the population is fully vaccinated, a statistic that lags below the state average of 54%, according to the Los Angeles Times tracker.
The vaccination rate in Sacramento County is bleaker among some ethnic and racial minority groups. The breakdown of those who have been fully vaccinated is:
- 30% of Latinos
- 35% of Blacks
- 42% of American Indian or Alaska Natives
- 45% of Whites
- 68% of Asian or Pacific Islanders.
These statistics are disheartening to medical experts.
“A lot of people think that if they get COVID, they’re only getting a cough, or a fever, and everything will be fine. But right now in the hospital we’re seeing a lot of young people with symptoms that aren’t necessarily respiratory,” said internal medicine resident Yesenia Ramos, one of Torres’ physicians.
— Saul Torres
“These symptoms are affecting their immunological system, their nervous system, even their heart. And it’s not necessarily immediate – this could be weeks or months later,” she said.
“Unfortunately, when patients with COVID complications are admitted to the hospital is when they tell us they regret not having gotten vaccinated,” Ramos added.
After COVID, Torres lost sensation in his fingers and toes
Torres, who has diabetes, acknowledges he hadn’t taken proper precautions during the pandemic.
He only wore a face mask when it was required, such as grocery shopping. He traced his COVID infection to early July. That’s when he had cold-like symptoms and body aches. Then he had difficulty breathing. He was diagnosed at a South Sacramento hospital and sent home with antibiotics.
His family had similar symptoms.
Eventually, he returned to work but felt unsafe on ladders after losing sensation in his fingers and toes. “You could break one of my toes and I wouldn’t feel it,” he said.
That’s when he decided to come to UC Davis Medical Center. After his initial observation, Torres was given a five-day course of immunoglobulin, an intravenous medication for Guillain-Barré, a disease that causes nerve damage, sometimes permanently.
Torres has a clear message to people who don’t take the pandemic seriously.
“Seek out information and get vaccinated – don’t wait until the point where I got,” he said.
Torres is determined to get the word out, and he eagerly told his story on local television while still in the hospital.
In a few weeks, when his body is ready for the vaccine, Torres said, he’ll sign up to get his first shot. And he hopes more friends and family members will, too.
Learn how to schedule your COVID-19 vaccination at UC Davis Health.