DENVER — After nearly 80 days fighting COVID-19 from his hospital bed, Roman Valles is now ready to return to St. Anthony’s Hospital to help other patients beat the virus that nearly killed him.
Valles has been a respiratory therapist for the past five years. He was inspired to go into the medical field after losing his mother to breast cancer.
“I treat everybody as if they were my mom,” Valles said.
The role of respiratory therapists came into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic. They help patients experiencing breathing problems.
During the pandemic, Valles volunteered for temporary assignments in COVID hotspots around the country. He knew the risks but says he decided he needed to help “where it’s really needed.”
“I did call my sister and tell her at the beginning of it when we first treated our first COVID patients that I was scared and I was thinking about a different career. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing this,” he said.
Valles ended up spending four months working in COVID units in New York and Dallas. During a stint in Texas, he began feeling symptoms of COVID-19.
“I had a feeling but I was just like it can’t be. I protect myself so well, especially in the hospital wearing our PPE,” he said.
Within days, Valles was in the hospital and on a ventilator. He suffered a collapsed lung, kidney failure and cardiac arrest.
“I remember texting my loved ones, my sister, my brother, my nephew that I loved them. I thought that was going to be my time,” he said.
As Valles fought for his life in the hospital, his family back in Colorado fought to try and bring him home.
“I have to arrange and find transport and pay for it and it’s only because he’s uninsured right now,” Valles’ sister Monica Rosa told FOX31 during an interview in October.
His original story gained nationwide attention and raised more than $36,000 to help pay for his medical expenses. Peak Medevac, a company Valles used to be a contractor with, donated a flight and medical crew to transport him from Texas back to Colorado.
He finished his recovery at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood. After nearly 80 days, Valles walked out on his own to a hallway of healthcare heroes applauding his progress.
“They said I shouldn’t have made it through what I went through but I’m here,” he said.
Valles says he feels like a better person and now lives every day as if it’s his last. He will now walk back into St. Anthony’s at the end of March to help others in their fight against COVID.
“I know I’m going to be walking past that room and to look at it and think, I was there one day,” he said.
Valles is now writing a book about his experience fighting COVID both from his hospital bed and as a respiratory therapist. He hopes it helps more people understand how serious the virus can be.