BRYAN, Texas (KBTX/Gray News) - Gabriel Menchaca has always believed in God, but his recent brush with death and the loss of his father to COVID-19 has only strengthened his faith.
KBTX reports the Bryan native who now resides in College Station was Brazos County’s first community-spread patient of COVID-19. He spent nearly a month in a coma at Baylor Scott and White Health, and when he woke up, he learned his father was in the same hospital dying from the virus.
"My dad was an amazing man, and I'm not just saying that because he's my dad. He was an amazing man and greeted everyone with a smile," Menchaca said.
Gabriel says he was very close to his father, Emilio Amos Menchaca, who passed away on April 13.
The 67-year-old's death followed his son's diagnosis of COVID-19 in mid-March.
"The first day it felt like the flu. My body was sore and I had chills. I could barely walk. It just felt like the flu," Menchaca said.
The 37-year old says the first hospital he visited sent him home with no test, and his condition quickly got worse, so he went to another hospital in the area.
"I got to Baylor Scott and White and tell them my medical history, what I've been through. I've had cancer and I have diabetes and they took me right in. They took me right in," Menchaca said.
At the hospital, he was given the COVID-19 test, medicine for his symptoms, and then he sent home to self-isolate while waiting for the test results.
A few days later, the Brazos County Health District announced a male in his 30s with no history of travel had tested positive for the virus.
Menchaca says watching the news conference on KBTX is how he learned of his test results.
"Nobody called me," he said. "My mom and my girlfriend both asked 'Gabriel, is that you?' and I said, 'No, no.' Just to get closure and be on the safe side I called the health department. They asked me my name and I told them Emilio Menchaca and they said 'Yes sir, you're the one.'"
He was told to continue self-isolating in his apartment, but two days later his condition got to a point he needed emergency care.
"Two days later I'm waking up and I'm coughing. I'm struggling hard. I'm coughing. I can't breathe. My chest is so tight, and it hurt," he said.
That's when he was rushed back to the emergency room at Baylor Scott and White, and Menchaca says that's the last thing he remembered.
"I walked in and I told the nurse I'm the one who tested positive. Non-travel," he said. "They were ready for me. They didn't even take me through the hospital. They took me through the back and put me in an isolated room," he said.
"I remember I was tired because I haven't had much rest. So I laid down, and that was the last thing I remember. Next thing I know it's a month later," said Menchaca.
Nearly four weeks later, he woke up in a hospital bed. There were doctors and nurses, but his family wasn't here. He called them from the phone in his hospital room, but his own family didn't believe it was really him.
"I called my mom, and she's crying, and her response was, "Whoever this is you better stop playing." She's crying. I kept saying, "This is me, mom. It's me." And she's crying hysterically. Then my brother gets on and he's like, "Who is this?" And I kept saying, "It's me bro, it's really me."
Menchaca was told since he went into a coma, the hospital barred all visitors, and the virus had spread throughout the community. What they didn't tell him immediately was that his father also contracted the virus and was in critical condition in the same hospital.
Fearing a relapse, his family and doctors felt it was best to keep the news from Gabriel until the day his father passed.
"I do remember the phone call. I'm laying in bed. It's my brother. I could tell something was wrong. I could feel it. He said dad has been in the hospital, and I said I figured. What's going on. He said yeah, they're fixing to pull the, you know. I said, 'He's not going to make it?' And he was like, "No."
Gabriel says right before he woke up from his coma he remembers a dream or vision of his father appearing before him and asking if he was ready. In his heart, he believes that was his dad trading places with him.
"I remember in my dream he thumped me on the forehead, and that's when I woke up. That's when I woke up. And he was down the hallway taking a turn for the worst. I do believe I'm here because of my dad. He made the ultimate sacrifice as a father for me. He was a righteous man, and he walked with the Lord. My dad had a plan and the Lord let him work it out," Menchaca said.
Gabriel should have had months of physical and speech therapy, but to everyone's surprise, he's made a miraculous and fast recovery and is now at home but still keeping a distance from others.
He credits his fast recovery to his father, his faith, and the staff at Baylor Scott and White who were by his bedside when no one else could visit.
"They held my hand, hugged me, consoled me, cried with me. The staff there was just amazing," he said.
Menchaca doesn't know how he got the virus or who he got it from, and he's at peace with that. He says he's been blessed with so many friends and family who have offered to help with anything he needs but his response is always the same:
"I have everything I need. My lungs are breathing on their own now. My heart is pumping on its own. I'm seeing through my own eyes. I can stand on my feet. I'm not without. I'm beyond rich and it's all thanks to the Lord."