Straight from the Source: Gurnee man with heart damage from a virus says take COVID-19 seriously

  • Steven Urizar caught a virus in 2000 that damaged his heart and changed his life forever. Now, he's hoping for a heart transplant. His message to others: Don't underestimate COVID-19 or the terror of being on life support.

      Steven Urizar caught a virus in 2000 that damaged his heart and changed his life forever. Now, he's hoping for a heart transplant. His message to others: Don't underestimate COVID-19 or the terror of being on life support. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Steven Urizar caught a virus in 2000 that damaged his heart and changed his life forever. Now, he's hoping for a heart transplant. His message to others: Don't underestimate COVID-19 or the terror of being on life support.

      Steven Urizar caught a virus in 2000 that damaged his heart and changed his life forever. Now, he's hoping for a heart transplant. His message to others: Don't underestimate COVID-19 or the terror of being on life support. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • A virus damaged Steven Urizar's heart and he's now connected to a device that helps pump his blood. He is hoping for a heart transplant.

      A virus damaged Steven Urizar's heart and he's now connected to a device that helps pump his blood. He is hoping for a heart transplant. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Steven Urizar is constantly connected to a left ventricular assist device that helps pump blood through his body. A virus years ago damaged his heart and he is hoping for a transplant.

      Steven Urizar is constantly connected to a left ventricular assist device that helps pump blood through his body. A virus years ago damaged his heart and he is hoping for a transplant. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
By Steven Urizar
Straight From The Source
Updated 8/8/2020 5:59 PM
Editor’s note: Steven Urizar of Gurnee is married and the father of three children. He is waiting for a heart transplant and, before a recent illness, worked as a call center supervisor in the Northern suburbs.

In many of the stories around COVID-19, I have seen an increase on social media of information that is not true. As we get ready for the fall, it is important for people to understand the risks they are taking if they don't heed the warnings of medical professionals.

I am not going to give facts or figures because everyone has access to those things, and when you break it down, they don't tell the whole story of why our lives are being turned upside down. Instead, I am instead going to tell you my story and how it relates to this pandemic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

My story goes back 20 years to January 2000. In the course of one month, I went from a healthy, working adult to gasping for air at night in my bed. I can't tell you how scared I was back then, not knowing what was wrong with me. Not knowing if I was going to die. All I knew was that something was wrong. Throughout the month, I had experienced symptoms that were getting progressively worse, but I ignored them because I was young and thought they would go away.

My ignorance almost killed me. When enough became enough, my mother begged me to go to an emergency room. Her tears moved me to take action and seek the help I desperately needed. After a week of unfortunate events, I eventually ended up being rushed to a hospital downtown for what we thought was liver failure. What we came to find out was that I had something ultimately worse than that.

For the past month, my heart had been damaged by a virus and was failing week by week. By the time I ended up at the hospital downtown, I was in total organ failure. My parents were told that we should call a priest to give last rites, that my heart failure had progressed to the point where there may have been no return. I had to say goodbye to them, because I was starting to slip into a coma. My body had put on over 80 pounds of water weight in the course of the month, and because of my weak heart, the oxygen supply was decreasing to my brain and other organs.

I don't remember anything from there until I woke up a week later, very confused. I couldn't talk and I hurt everywhere. You can't begin to understand what it is like being on a ventilator. The sheer terror of knowing I was not breathing on my own still haunts me. I was strapped down and had wires, tubes, IV lines going in every direction. And for a stretch of time, the only company was the beeping of machines.

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I don't know if I can convey in meaningful words the terror I felt then. I can't convey how scared I was. I can only hope that this gives just a small description of what I experienced mentally. In time, I recovered from the organ failure, but my heart was permanently damaged. I was diagnosed and treated for congestive heart failure. After spending three months in the hospital, I was given medicine to treat my symptoms. For the next 17 years, I was doing fine until January 2017.

I started experiencing the same symptoms as in 2000. After being in and out of the hospital for a couple of weeks, my cardiologist determined my heart had progressed to the advanced stages of heart failure. I had to make a decision to either say goodbye to my family or have a life-prolonging procedure. I chose to have the procedure.

In March 2017, I had an LVAD, or left ventricular assist device, implanted in my heart. This is effectively a pump that pushes the blood to the rest of my body since my heart is weakened. It is considered a bridge to transplant, as the goal is to make it to receiving a donor heart.

So, is there something I could offer to show you the depth of what I went through? Yes. It is my current existence. I still suffer the consequences of that event from 2000.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I have specific care involved with the equipment attached to me. I have specific things I have to do each morning. I go to bed hoping to be able to repeat my routine and in the morning, thank God I get to draw breath one more day.

So you may be asking what this all has to do with COVID-19? My ignorance of how the body can fail almost killed me. I didn't think a healthy person in his 20s could become that sick. But it's surprising how wrong we can be about these things.

My hope is that whoever reads this understands that although the chance may be small, you don't want to experience this for yourself or have a loved one go through it. My family had to sit powerless by my side, but at least they were there. With COVID-19, people are having to go through that experience alone. No one should have to do that alone.

Don't take that risk, however small it is. Don't think it is not that serious. I would give anything in the world to make sure not another person has to experience what I did. With COVID-19 there is that chance.

Listen to the professionals, wear a mask, limit your activity and hopefully we will soon find a way to return life to some normalcy.

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