How COVID-19 Changed the Lives of a Lung Doctor and Her Brother

A North Texas family shares their COVID-19 journey after the brother of a lung doctor becomes hospitalized during his illness

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The holidays will have more meaning this year for a pair of siblings in North Texas.

Dr. Sonja Bartolome is a UT Southwestern physician of internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care, who’s been on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Her brother, Anthony Darrell of Kentucky, suffered severe illness from COVID-19 and is still recovering months later.

When the COVID-19 vaccine became available, Dr. Bartomole said in her role as big sister, she encouraged Darrell to get vaccinated.

"I'm a lung doctor so my partners and I have been seeing people since the beginning," said Bartolome. "As physicians, we were pretty excited about a vaccine."

"I was talking to my brother about getting it but he was less enthusiastic," she said.

Darrell owns and operates a pool installation company. Business was booming and he said finding time to get vaccinated wasn't a priority.

He said he regretted that decision after he contracted COVID-19.

His illness progressed to pneumonia and he was in the ICU for four days.

The attending physician told him he would require the use of a ventilator if it had not been for treatments like Remdesivir.

"I was like, 'I should have got my vaccine,' and he was like, 'everyone on this floor didn’t get it,'" said Darrell.

Bartolome said she flew to Kentucky to be by her brother's side.

"When it’s your own loved one, and I know all the things that can happen, that is scary. It was really scary to watch him struggle for breath," she said.

After about a week, Darrell turned a corner and was able to go home with oxygen support.

Missed time from work has cost him financially and he has yet to fully recover.

"His story reminds people that, yeah you hear about deaths, but there are so many other outcomes that we would like to avoid," said Bartolome.

"Let's just say I still get COVID-19. Even though I had the vaccine, it probably wouldn’t have been as severe and then I might have avoided pneumonia. If there was a chance to avoid any section of that, I would have taken a shot any day," said Darrell.

"There are so many people who don’t have everyone at the holidays. We are lucky," said Bartolome.

Dr. Bartolome and Darrell detail their journey in this UTSW blog post.

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