Oregon’s ‘Patient Zero’ is KOIN’s 2020 Royal Rosarian Newsmaker

Special Reports

Hector Calderon had a long journey back to health after being the first Oregonian diagnosed with COVID-19

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The KOIN 6 Royal Rosarian Newsmaker of 2020 is the first person who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Oregon.

Hector Calderon received the award in person at Lake Oswego’s Forest Hills Elementary School where he is the head custodian. That’s also where he got the virus before anyone really knew the gravity of the coming pandemic.

In his first TV interview, the immigrant from Guatemala shared with KOIN 6 how his wife and kids refused to give up on him.

Hector still has trouble catching his breath. Even though it’s been one year, three months and 17 days since he was admitted to a hospital. After 71 days, Hector was transferred to a rehabilitation facility with his wife, Maricela, at his side. She said she feared he would never be the same.

It was another 19 days before Hector was wheeled home to the excitement of the family dog Daisy and his four children. He still had weeks of rest and recovery ahead of him.

These days, Hector says keeping up with his kids is his rehab now.

Looking back on how Hector — who is known as Oregon’s “Patient Zero” — remembers an unusual number of teachers and kids at Forest Hills Elementary getting ill before him.

“I went to the hospital in emergency and the doctor, they take X-rays and everything, and they said ‘well, you’re fine,'” he recalled.

Hector was sent home but his wife brought him to Kaiser Permanente in Hillsboro a couple of days later. He doesn’t remember much and would be unconscious for the next two months. He still bears the scar from the breathing tube.

Maricela says doctors eventually asked her permission to remove Hector from life support more than once. She and her kids prayed.

“I thought it was really scary and I thought I was going to lose him,” said 11-year-old Caroline. “It was really heartbreaking when they said they wanted to disconnect him because they said they thought my dad wasn’t going to live and I got really scared because I couldn’t live without dad.”

But Hector woke up.

When he finally left the hospital, Maricela says he looked 100 years old and doctors warned her he may never walk again.

But Hector did walk. He went back to work in September and thanks to Maricela’s cooking, is back to his old form.

“He looks the same, he lost 60 pounds, so right now he is more fat — big belly,” said Maricela, laughing.

Life for Patient Zero is full again.

“I’m here, yeah, with my family… I am glad to be back again,” Hector said.

Hector wanted to thank all the doctors and nurses at Kaiser Permanente who saved his life and have worked him through rehab. One of his co-workers said she was the first person to go into quarantine in Oregon after visiting Hector in the hospital before doctors knew it was COVID. Hectors wife did get COVID but didn’t have any serious complications.

Hector was a teacher in Guatemala and is thinking about writing a book about his experience.

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