November 28, 2020

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Fernando Cabanillas: the first doctor to face COVID-19 in Puerto Rico


For the hematologist and oncologist Fernando Cabanillas, fighting COVID-19 started before the information spread that a person who arrived in the country on a cruise she had been hospitalized for the virus.

One of his patients suffered from lymphoma and had received a bone marrow transplant, but he was convalescing in the hospital with a clinical picture that made Cabanillas suspect that he was facing this viral enemy for the first time.

“The first patient diagnosed here in Puerto Rico was a patient of mine. I had to fight a lot to get the tests sent to me because at that time they were not done and they were sent to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). After fighting for a long time, they gave us the diagnosis… I had COVID ”, Cabanillas remembered.

You can also read: Doctor denounces five possible cases of coronavirus on the Island

It was the first “autochthonous” case, as it was called at that time. There was no way to save the patient’s life, so today the oncologist regrets not having the knowledge that they currently have to recognize and face the virus, and be able to help his patient win that battle.

“When the patient entered the hospital, at that time, we did not have the protocol, we did not know the importance of using cortisone and the patient, unfortunately, died. That shocked me a lot because he was a patient of mine that he had lymphoma and we had done a bone marrow transplant. I think that, perhaps, if the patient had presented himself at this time, when we already have a plan of how to handle it, he would probably be alive “said the hematologist saddened.

You can also read: Dr. Fernando Cabanillas moved by the death of his patient with coronavirus

Despite this hard experience, Cabanillas emphasizes that, in these eight months of pandemic, he has been able to take the satisfaction of fighting face to face against this invisible enemy, since he has been in charge of preparing all possible weapons based on knowledge acquired.

“On a personal level, I can say that I am very satisfied with the protocol we use to treat this disease. So far, of 190 patients that we have registered, only one has died. Only two have gone into respiratory failure, when the prediction is that they would go into respiratory failure about 19 “.

Learning within this pandemic, which in Puerto Rico reached a dramatic figure of 1,012 deaths this Saturday, has been key to giving war on COVID-19.

You can also read: Puerto Rico surpasses fateful 1,000 deaths from COVID-19

“We have learned which patients need treatment and which patients can stay calm at home. You definitely learn as you treat patients. We have managed to treat the vast majority at home, giving them treatments by vein and monitoring oxygenation. That has been very satisfactory, “said Dr. Cabanillas.

However, the doctor cannot hide his concern after the recent increase in cases that he attributes to general elections and the high mortality rate that is recorded.

“I am very concerned with the outbreak that has occurred which I think is largely due to the elections. The incidence of new cases was increasing, but not so fast. But, already after the elections, it skyrocketed dramatically and that coincides with the incubation time of the virus. I hope that he will at least keep going down the curve, keep improving “, said.

However, Cabanillas fears that now – that the Country is approaching to celebrate the festivities of Thanksgiving Y Christmas– Another increase in this contagion curve occurs, which could endanger the lives of many people.

“The last two or three weeks they call me at least four times a day for new patients. There is no doubt that the situation has gotten out of control. I hope it starts to go down, but I fear the opposite with the holidays, and that is when Christmas comes. People tend to congregate in the house and there, definitely, mortality will increase “stressed the oncologist, who took advantage of the space to make an appeal to Puerto Ricans.

“People have to be well aware that this year they should suspend the Thanksgiving holiday or make it virtual because if they continue to gather in the houses, many of them will be contaminated. They have to assume a much more responsible attitude, especially young boys (20-29 years old) who are the largest group that is being infected. They consider themselves indestructible, that nothing will happen to them, and they are right, nothing happens to them, but they can infect their relatives “, concluded Dr. Cabanillas.



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