Jillianzka Otero Rodríguez Becomes the First Person in Puerto Rico to Defeat COVID-19

Jillianzka Otero Puerto Rico BELatina
Photo credit via Instagram @Jillianzka_mua

Lee la traducción en español aquí.

In what felt a blink of an eye, the word coronavirus has become part of our lexicon. The world has become inundated with an overload of information on anything relating to this novel disease. We have been told that this virus or COVID-19 would mainly affect the older generation or people with an immunocompromised system, but it doesn’t seem as though that was too accurate. In fact, we know that isn’t necessarily the case as we were able to speak to someone who broke all these preconceived stereotypes. 

Jillianzka Otero Rodriguez is a 30-year-old Puerto Rican woman who was fairly healthy. She had been diagnosed with asthma in her earlier years, but had never encountered an asthma attack. All in all, everything seemed fine. Until it wasn’t. In a flash, her life hung from a dangerously frail thread, but she refused to go without a fight. Luckily, she was able to defeat this monstrous disease, hence making her the first person in Puerto Rico to ever recover from COVID-19.

Here is Otero Rodriguez’s journey with this virus. BELatina News conducted the interview via FaceTime in Spanish. The following is an English translation transcript of that FaceTime conversation.

At what point did you feel like you had a key symptom?

It all started with a fever. I had a fever for like four days, then the cough started and I began to suffocate. So, on March 20, I went to Centro Medico to get tested for COVID-19.

Oh, wow. Did you call an ambulance to take you to the hospital or did you arrive alone?

A friend took me along with my aunt who wanted to accompany me.

At this point, did you suspect you had contracted COVID-19?

No. Not really. I only came to rule it out because my fever did not go down. I had already been tested for influenza, mycoplasma, and had blood drawn during that same week.

Did your fever rise to 103 F during those times?

Yes. I had 106 F and everything. I had a very strong fever. I mean, the thermometer read 104 F, 106 F, 104 F, 106 F all the time. 

What was the hospital protocol?

I came here to Centro Medico and they administered the test. I was held in isolation for three days while the tests came back. During that process, I felt like I was suffocating so they had to give me oxygen. Once I received the positive test results for COVID-19, I was immediately moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) at the Hospital Universitario de Adulto. After that, they started the treatment. Also, every time the nurses enter my room, they have specific protective gear. The ICU where I am in is completely sterile. So when nurses come in, they have to wear the protective gear and cannot leave until their shift ends. Nobody goes in and out freely. 

It seems like they took really good care of you over there. That’s good to hear. What was the treatment used in the hospital? Was hydroxychloroquine given to you by any chance? 

Yes, they gave me a treatment that is normally given to malaria patients. The treatment was Plaquenil [which is hydroxychloroquine] with antibiotics in addition to other medicines for other symptoms like vomiting. They also gave me Tylenol with codeine.

Okay. So, as soon as you received that treatment, how long did it take for you to start feeling better?

I was under this treatment, if I’m not mistaken, for about six days. Then, after like a week, the symptoms started diminishing. The symptoms ceased — the vomiting and the fever stopped. 

That’s a wonderful outcome. I’m glad it worked out for your case as it is known that is still experimental. Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but recently CNN reporter Chris Cuomo was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. Since his diagnosis, a pulmonologist instructed him to stay active, such as raising his arms and taking deep breaths, to battle the virus and not allow himself to be defeated. Did you get this kind of recommendation too?

No. This virus made me extremely ill. I would go to sleep with the big oxygen mask. I really couldn’t do much. I would take two steps and suffocate. It is now that I’m finally doing fine.

I can only imagine this must’ve been a difficult time for you, so I must ask: Did you have a support system during this time?

Yes. Well, my family. We communicated through FaceTime. They were very present as well as my friends. The nurses in the hospital were also essential. I would wake up and they were already looking after me from the other side of the glass. They would be there to tell me good morning and to wish me a good night. They were with me all the time. I don’t know if you know Puerto Ricans, but we are very affectionate. So, all the time, the [hospital staff] would blow me kisses, they would come from other floors to help out and even though they didn’t know me that well, they would still ask how I was doing. I never felt like I was missing any support. 

Do you feel that type of support and affection helped you get better?

Of course! I know that my family has been supporting me, but I haven’t been able to see my family. Instead, the [hospital staff] was here all the time. They have been a key piece to my recovery. Whenever I felt like I was dying, they would stay by me telling me to breathe and reassuring me that everything was going to be okay. I feel, despite them not being able to touch me because I could’ve infected them, without them being there all day and all night supporting me, I wouldn’t have been able to survive this. 

Would you like to say something to our audience?

Stay at home and respect social distancing. As long as we avoid contact, we save lives. If you are healthy, value your health. To families who have family members fighting this fight, I’m sending lots of strength your way. Keep your faith well intact. Overall, value your lives.

Otero Rodriguez was discharged from the hospital a couple of days ago. She is the first survivor of COVID-19 and we are sure there will be many more that will follow her suit. 

Precisely at this moment there are 502,876 COVID-19 cases in the United States and 18,747 deaths. These numbers might change at the time of this publication. Don’t add yourself to those numbers. Stay home and stay safe.