'A walking miracle': Palatine man recovering after 116 days in hospital with long COVID

A long-awaited homecoming took place earlier this month in Palatine when Edgar Espinosa left Ascension Saint Alexius hospital after 116 days of care for COVID pneumonia.

"He's very lucky," said Dr. Amit Bharara, a pulmonologist at the Hoffman Estates hospital. "The majority of people who get as sick as he did, don't survive."

While the hospital has treated other young people with COVID pneumonia for up to two months, the 38-year-old Espinosa's nearly four-month stay is the longest, Bharara said.

COVID pneumonia is a serious complication of the COVID-19 virus. It can cause lung damage and, in the worst cases, results in being put on a ventilator. In rare cases like Espinosa's, when patients do not improve while on the ventilator, pulmonologists induce a heavy paralysis for up to two weeks and follow up with heavy sedation, essentially resulting in an induced coma.

"These prolonged COVID cases require some heroic efforts," Bharara said.

Espinosa was "asleep" for two months while being treated round-the-clock by ICU staff. The goal, Bharara said, is to allow the lungs to rest enough to get the patient to a tracheostomy.

"It goes against all the teaching," he said, "but we've had success with the paralytics in cases like his. For young people who get this sick, we'll do whatever we can."

Espinosa, who works in construction, was admitted Dec. 12 with what he thought were flu-like symptoms. They had advanced to the point that he was so weak and his breathing had become labored.

"They thought they'd keep him a couple of days to monitor him," said his wife, Meggin.

Days stretched into weeks after he was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia. Since it was during the peak of the omicron variant, his wife was unable to see him until Jan. 28, 49 days later.

"Through this whole thing, I tried to stay strong, be positive and OK," said Meggin, who works as an office manager for a trucking company on Chicago's South Side. "I just refused to give up."

It wasn't until Feb. 9 that Espinosa was able to undergo the tracheostomy, though he would be put back on the ventilator when a second infection hit. He moved out of the intensive care unit March 16 and began intense rehabilitation with a team of occupational, physical and speech therapists.

After nearly three months in the hospital battling COVID pneumonia, Edgar Espinosa, right, has been reunited with his wife, Meggin. "We are so beyond blessed. He's a walking miracle," she said. Courtesy of Meggin Espinosa

Now back in Palatine, recovering at the home of his sister Cristina Barrios, Espinosa remains on oxygen full time and needs the help of a wheelchair and walker as he slowly regains his strength. He continues to see all of his therapists and will reunite with Bharara in two weeks at the pulmonology clinic.

"I'm excited to see him as an outpatient," Bharara said.

All the hospital staff became attached to Espinosa. When he was discharged, medical personnel lined the hallway and cheered as he was wheeled past them.

Edgar Espinosa, second from right, posed for a final photo with some of his caretakers as he prepared to leave Ascension Saint Alexius in Hoffman Estates after 116 days there battling COVID pneumonia. Courtesy of Meggin Espinosa

A pair of chaplains - Charlie Green and the Rev. Domingo Hurtado-Badillo - offered prayers of thanksgiving, one in English and one in Spanish, and even they found themselves emotional.

"Edgar, on this day, may you know this joy in full measure," Green said. "You go with our prayers and our blessing."

Edgar, Meggin and their extended family spent Easter together, which Meggin described simply as "very joyful."

"I'm trying to process it all, getting oxygen, setting up doctors' appointments, and getting the wheelchair and walker," she said. "One month ago, the issues were totally different. These are super easy.

"We are so beyond blessed. He's a walking miracle."

Espinosa's family has set up a GoFundMe page to help with the expenses of bringing him home. Find out more information at

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