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Family suspects Ewa Beach resident, now on life support, got coronavirus while working in Waikiki

  • COURTESY PEGGY TORDA-SABALLA
                                Lee-Jacob “Coby” Torda, 37, pictured with mother Peggy Torda-Saballa, is on life support fighting the coronavirus at Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center.

    COURTESY PEGGY TORDA-SABALLA

    Lee-Jacob “Coby” Torda, 37, pictured with mother Peggy Torda-Saballa, is on life support fighting the coronavirus at Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center.

  • COURTESY PEGGY TORDA-SABALLA
                                Lee-Jacob “Coby” Torda, 37, is on life support fighting the coronavirus at Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center.

    COURTESY PEGGY TORDA-SABALLA

    Lee-Jacob “Coby” Torda, 37, is on life support fighting the coronavirus at Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center.

Ewa Beach resident Lee-Jacob “Coby” Torda is fighting for his life after contracting COVID-19.

The 37-year-old Waikiki bartender is on life support at Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center.

“He’s pretty much the same. He’s not back sliding, but it’s very slow,” his mother, Peggy Torda-Saballa, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The family suspects the bartender contracted the new coronavirus while working among tourists at a Waikiki bar in the heart of the state’s largest tourist hub.

“The tourist customers there are foreign people, people that he doesn’t normally mingle with,” she said.

Hawaii’s coronavirus cases jumped to 120 Friday, up 14 from Thursday. The tally includes 87 Oahu residents, 16 Maui County residents, seven Big Island residents and five Kauai County residents. Four cases are pending identification of the county of residence.

While health officials do not believe there is widespread community transmission, there is at least localized spread on Oahu and Maui, where recent cases have had no travel history or exposure to travelers.

“We all anticipate a time when we’re gonna see much more community spread,” said Hawaii Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson. “It’s practically impossible to avoid.”

A total of 5,747 coronavirus tests have been completed so far in Hawaii, mostly by private laboratories.

Torda’s mother said he started feeling sick on March 9.

After coming home from work, she said he immediately wanted to rest because he had been coughing and developed a headache. His symptoms progressed, with fevers as high as 104 degrees, and he went to The Queen’s Medical Center to get a coronavirus test on March 15.

While awaiting test results, he was directed to stay home and treat the fever, drink lots of fluids and rest. By March 20, his spouse noticed he was having a hard time breathing and the fever would not break, his mother said.

“It would go down to 100 to 101 for an hour and a half (with medicine) and shoot right back up to 103 sometimes close to 104,” she said.

Torda-Saballa said her son told her: “I can kick this, mom. Don’t worry.”

On March 21, his family took him to the hospital and doctors told them that “he’s really, really sick” and would need to be intubated. His positive COVID-19 test result was confirmed Sunday.

“We wanted to make sure that Coby was aware of what was gonna happen to him. You don’t like to hear that they’re going to intubate someone. You know the severity of it when that is the plan,” she said. “By that time when they took him in he was already isolated. They didn’t want anyone coming in the room already because they were sure that he had it.”

Doctors haven’t given the family a prognosis for Torda, who lives with his mother, father and spouse. The rest of the family is so far asymptomatic.

“We’ve all been home, confined and quarantined ourselves and thus far … nobody has been showing any signs of illness,” Torda-Saballa said. “We are fortunate.”

Health Director Bruce Anderson said Thursday that there was at least one coronavirus patient still in the hospital, but didn’t mention the severity of the case. When asked how many COVID-19 patients had recovered, Anderson said: “Virtually everyone’s recovered so far. At least we haven’t had any deaths here in Hawaii.”

The state Department of Health misreported a death early this week, but later said that the individual in fact did not have the disease.

“We have a 100 percent recovery rate as far as we know at this point in time,” Anderson said at a news conference. “That’s not to say we aren’t gonna have some deaths. Often you have a situation where someone is very fragile — whether they have the flu or COVID-19 — it just takes a little to tip them over the edge. I would expect we’re gonna see some in the not-too-distant future.”

But in Torda’s case, his mother said he was healthy, active and had no pre-existing medical conditions.

“He’s a vibrant young man, goes to the gym, plays volleyball, is very active, goes to the beach, he was living his life,” she said. “He’s so healthy, takes vitamins, goes to the gym, does sports and everything, yet it hits him the hardest. It doesn’t care who it affects … it can hit anyone. It all depends on how the virus reacts to the individual.”

Meanwhile, health officials are grappling with another issue: local doctors closing shop in the middle of the global pandemic.

At a briefing Friday before the state Senate COVID-19 Special Committee, Anderson said there have been “quite a few private physicians closing up their practices.”

“It has come to us anecdotally that people are calling doctors they’ve seen for years … only to find out they’ve stopped seeing patients,” he said, adding that residents who do not have a doctor anymore can contact a community health center. “Many of them are not used to dealing with infectious disease issues. Many aren’t used to wearing (personal protective equipment) or don’t have any supplies in stock. It puts an increased burden on other medical facilities, hospitals and others.”

The City and County of Honolulu, in partnership with Premier Medical Group Hawaiʻi, will host drive-thru testing at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex today and Kakaako Waterfront Park on Sunday. Hours on both days will be 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those eligible for testing must be experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, city officials said. A drive-thru testing site at Kakaako Waterfront Park a week ago drew hundreds of motorists, many of whom did not get tested because they did not meet the symptom criteria.

State officials, preparing for a surge in demand for medical care, hope lockdown and closure measures being taken statewide will help contain the spread, as well as residents heeding warnings to stay at home and practice social distancing.

“There are some people who are very non-compliant about the rules that the government has set for us. They really, really need to take it seriously because you don’t know how agonizing it is until it’s your family member,” Torda-Saballa said. “If you love life and care for your family, friends and the community, you comply.”

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