AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — Visitors, under normal circumstances, are part of the daily scene at Aiken Regional Medical Centers, but the past four months have been anything but normal, and a couple of international visitors took extraordinary steps to comfort a family member this month.

Eduardo Victoria Morales, a long-distance trucker from Mexico, was out of action for the past couple of weeks, as a COVID-19 patient, and mobile phones were a lifeline for him in terms of keeping up with two family members who visited him every day, from about 100 yards away. A small tree near the hospital’s helicopter pad provided sweet relief – shade – in a spot where they could see the 55-year-old patient’s window, and he could confirm his presence and communicate via flashlight.

When daylight was low, they could see each other through his window. In broad daylight, he could see them (and take pictures for sharing via phone), but his image was obscured to them.

Eduardo’s wife, Rosa Maria Chue, visited the hospital campus every day, with their oldest of three daughters, Diana Victoria, a physical therapist. It was, however, anything but a casual trip, as they live in Reynosa, a border town in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, on the gulf.

The trucker (“trailero,” in Spanish) fell ill around 2 a.m. July 5 after unloading a shipment of toilet paper (“nine big rolls,” he said, confirming that each roll was about the size of a car) from Mexico. He was traveling from Augusta into Aiken County, on I-20, when he was unable to continue managing his Freightliner, at a gas station near Graniteville. Breathing became extraordinarily difficult, he recalled.

The Aiken hospital was his next destination, and he was there until July 20, when he was released with an oxygen tank to help him get his lungs back into working order. He never lost consciousness during the entire ordeal, he recalled.

“He is improving. He only had to be connected with oxygen. He never had to be on a ventilator. All the time, he’s been conscious, thank God. He can sleep. At first, he had to stay in bed, but now he can sit up and can eat a little more rapidly,” Diana said, while Eduardo was still in the hospital.

Rosa Maria said the initial days were challenging, because it was exhausting for Eduardo to talk, so text messages had to be enough, along with photos and video transmitted via a smartphone, showing the patient, his room, his meals, and some of the medical staff working on his behalf.

Diana, recalling the ambulance’s arrival, added, “We thank God because it arrived at the right time, and went to the correct hospital, because they’ve been giving all the medications and attention very well. The nurses, too, are very supportive, and so, we can’t complain. Many people are praying ardently for him, and here we are, thankful to God for the provision.”

The visitors, in a status update from July 17, said Eduardo was doing a variety of breathing exercises and could go to the bathroom by himself. Emphasis was – and is – on strengthening his lungs.

The two ladies, in beginning their exposure to the medical side of Aiken, needed two days to make the trip from Reynosa, traveling in a subcompact Volkswagen, with Mobile, Alabama, having been their halfway point, where they got some sleep before racking up the rest of the mileage to Aiken.

They arrived July 10 and have stayed in a motel near the hospital, with financial support from some North Augusta and Aiken residents.

Rosa Maria said, “What happened is, some people from my sister-in-law’s church got in touch here and gave us the gift of five nights in a motel, initially.” The local support, she said, was consistent and via the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.

Eduardo’s normal truckloads between the two countries, according to his two family members, include such cargo as parts for industrial-size trucks (to and from Mexico) and toilet paper and appliances (from Mexico), in his current role with TransMex (hauling from Mexico) and Swift (to Mexico).

Eduardo, who is planning to make the return trip to Mexico over the course of three days (to avoid exhaustion), noted that this was his third trip to the Aiken-Augusta area. Breathing is still challenging, he said, while recuperating in a motel room , but progress is coming “bit by bit.” Plans were for departure on July 24.

“We all have to be careful,” he added, acknowledging the importance of following basic safety guidelines regarding the pandemic.

Eduardo, who normally communicates in Spanish, opted for two English words in describing his experience at the hospital: “Excellent service.”

Rosa Maria, laughingly describing herself as “the administrator of the house” (also known as a stay-at-home mom), expressed profound gratitude. “Thanks to God and to many people who were praying for my husband’s well-being up to this point,” she said.

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