After spending about six weeks unconscious in a hospital while his body fought off a coronavirus infection, Ewa Beach resident and Waikiki bartender Coby Torda was able to mouth his desire for a back scratcher Sunday during a video chat with family.
Scotty Staples, Torda’s husband of five years, said he rushed to Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center to deliver the back scratcher along with a note of encouragement and support.
Staples said Friday was the first time he was able to communicate with Torda, who had been in a coma from heavy sedatives to keep a ventilator tube in his throat for about 38 days. Torda was still dazed Friday but could mouth the words, “I love you.”
“It was from that conversation two days ago that we felt like we could actually exhale,” Staples said. “Up until this moment it was just too hard.”
Also Sunday, Torda took a selfie and posted it on his Instagram account with an indecipherable message.
“It was just gibberish because he’s still quite out of it,” Staples said, adding that Torda, who is still connected to a ventilator through a tracheostomy, will receive a vocal valve soon to help him talk.
While Torda was showing improvement Sunday, the state announced its 17th coronavirus-related death: a woman over 60 years old with underlying medical conditions. She had been at Maui Memorial Medical Center since late February, became infected with the virus in mid-April and died Saturday night, the state and a hospital spokeswoman said.
The hospital has been the center of the state’s largest cluster of cases with 59, including 38 staff and 21 patients.
The state said COVID-19 may have been a contributing factor in the woman’s death but is not considered the primary cause because of her other serious illnesses.
Tracy Dallarda, spokeswoman for Maui Health, said the woman tested positive as part of the hospital’s routine screening after contact with a positive individual. She did not know whether the positive individual was an employee or another patient.
“We are saddened by the passing of a member of our Maui community and extend our sincere condolences to the patient’s family and loved ones,” Dallarda said in a statement. “We continue to work collaboratively with The Department of Health and our initial investigations reveal that the patient’s passing was a result of progression of (her) underlying terminal illness and not attributed to COVID-19.”
Dallarda added that the hospital staff was able to help the woman’s family video-chat with her Saturday to say goodbye.
State Health Director Bruce Anderson gave his condolences to the woman’s friends and family and said COVID-19 remains “a critical issue for everyone in Hawaii.”
“Please follow social distancing guidelines and current emergency rules to help protect our most vulnerable people,” Anderson said in a statement.
The state Sunday also announced two new cases, one on Oahu and one on Hawaii island. The state’s total of cases, however, remained unchanged at 620 because the Department of Health found two previous cases had been double-counted.
Sunday was also the 15th day the state had new cases in the single digits, and Anderson cautioned the public not to let their guard down.
“With the pending reopening of businesses, we urge everyone to continue doing what they’ve been doing — stay at home, unless it’s necessary to go out, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and wear masks,” Anderson said. “For now, this is our new normal, in order to protect each other and prevent the spread of the disease.”
On Kauai, where there are no known cases, Mayor Derek Kawakami said in his daily Facebook update that reopening the county must be done in phases to prevent the virus from gaining a foothold in the community.
Many places that reopened too soon, such as Japan and Singapore, “have seen a second wave of disease that slammed their health care systems and has caused many deaths,” he said.
During Torda’s recovery his 73-year-old mother and Staples both tested positive for the virus and have since recovered with mild or no symptoms. Torda and his husband live with Torda’s parents in Ewa Beach.
Staples said Torda had to be kept unconscious because the ventilator tube down his throat was too invasive. He could not be transferred to a tracheostomy tube because the medical staff could not conduct the procedure on a COVID-19-positive patient.
The tracheostomy procedure requires cutting into the neck to insert a tube in the windpipe, allowing body fluids to become airborne, placing staff at risk of inhaling the virus.
Staples said Torda was given the operation after testing negative for the second time Thursday.
He said Torda was given hydroxychloroquine at the hospital, but it did not help his condition improve.
“The only thing that healed him was supportive care,” Staples said. “That’s all he ended up getting in the end was support from his doctors and nurses and prayers that his lungs will heal on their own.”
Staples said he was grateful for Kaiser’s entire staff and for how they’ve taken care of Torda and his family.
“I can tell that they love my husband almost as much as I do,” Staples said. “They’ve invested so much into his recovery.”
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