LOS ANGELES - After working to save lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic, two Florida doctors — a father and son — died weeks apart after contracting the novel coronavirus themselves.
Charlie Vallejo, 26, said his father Carlos Vallejo and grandfather Jorge Vallejo were both admitted to the ICU on Father’s Day.
The 89-year-old Jorge died from COVID-19 six days after being admitted on June 1. Jorge’s son Carlos, 57, spent 42 days in the ICU before passing from the virus on Aug. 1.
“He practiced in internal medicine, he served the South Florida community for over 25 years, he was very well respected in the community,” Charlie said about his dad, Carlos.
Both Carlos and Jorge immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1965 to escape the communist Castro regime. Charlie said his grandfather “lived the American dream,” starting a life in Florida with nothing but the clothes on his back, before earning his medical license and become a well-regarded OB-GYN in the Miami area.
Carlos, too, became a medical fixture of the Miami community, practicing internal medicine and serving on the board of Palmetto General Hospital.
“He was on the front lines fighting COVID. He was treating a lot of COVID patients in the hospital and in the rehab centers, and we believe that’s where he got the virus from initially,” Charlie said about his dad, who he described as an active, healthy and family focused man with no underlying conditions.
Charlie Vallejo said his grandfather was a beloved fixture of the Miami community. (Credit: Charlie Vallejo)
Charlie said his family warned Carlos to be careful when treating COVID-19 patients, urging him to try to keep his distance and not be in the room unless he absolutely had to.
“But that just wasn’t the man my dad was,” Charlie said. “My dad would tell us, ‘No no no, I have to go in there, be with my patients, whether they have COVID or not, I got to physically touch them.’”
While COVID-19 grips many areas of the United States, Florida is reporting one of the highest case counts in the nation with over 536,000 confirmed cases, according to Aug. 12 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Miami, in particular, had been previously dubbed by some health experts as a potential new epicenter of the pandemic due to its surging case counts.
“He was very cautious, he would wear his mask, he would wear his face shield, full PPP, gown, everything, but you know there’s always that slight chance that you can still contract the virus,” Charlie said. “Unfortunately, he did.”
Charlie said Carlos’ death was a big shock to the family, adding that his father was the last person he would have thought would die from COVID-19.
“Personally, we’re destroyed,” Charlie said. “I believe my dad died a hero on the front lines serving his patients.”
Charlie described his dad as an active and healthy man who had no preexisting conditions before being infected with COVID-19. (Credit: Charlie Vallejo)
Charlie described what he sees as parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where firefighters would bravely trudge into buildings, risking their lives, just to save those who needed help.
"Here you have a war against an invisible enemy, this virus, and you have these doctors and nurses laying down their lives on the line to save their patients, and its tragic what’s happening," Charlie said.
Charlie, who is a medical student, urged people to take the pandemic seriously and do their part to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
"This is no hoax, wear your masks, do your part, and we have to unite as a country to do whatever we can to stop the spread of this virus, it’s terrible what’s happening," Charlie said. "Some people think it’s just a statistic, it’s just numbers going away, but we’re losing human lives every day, it’s very sad what’s going on."