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Lorain COVID-19 survivor reunited with nurses who helped save her life

At the end of March, Cookie Villarreal, 69, nearly died. She has always wanted to meet the people who helped save her. We were honored to make it happen.

LORAIN, Ohio — Jose and Cookie Villarreal, 69, remember the day vividly: It was March 25, and Cookie was not herself.

"She started feeling weaker and more tired, and then that day I took her in. She said, 'I just can't get out of bed,'" Jose said.

For Cookie, the memory is blank.

“I don't even remember leaving my house," Cookie told us. 

But she did leave the house. Jose, her husband and best friend, had to drop his wife off at Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital. 

“And the hardest thing I did was, you know, 45 years being married to this woman, just driving away was tough," Jose said.

That was the start of a two-week nightmare for the Villarreal's.

Cookie, who had no underlying health conditions, besides a recent surgery on her leg prior to her illness, was diagnosed with COVID-19. And, she has no idea where she got it.

“They said they had the crash carts for me," Cookie said of her close brush with death.

She was put on a ventilator for nine days. Her family was helpless, because they couldn't see her.

“They would go there every night in the parking lot and pray the rosary for me," Cookie recalled.

Nine days on a ventilator ... and then, a revelation.

“Finally, I was able to breathe on my own, and they all started cheering and clapping for me, and they said, 'Oh cookie, you did it. Keep coughing. You could breathe, you could breathe," Cookie remembered. “That was the happiest day of my life.” 

Credit: Credit: Jose Villarreal

Cookie, was then wheeled out of hospital, where Jose was waiting in his car. Thirteen days separated from one another -- the reunion was surreal.

“We just held hands all the way home and cried. We couldn't really speak because we were so emotional," Cookie said.

The Villarreal's say, the nurses at Cleveland Clinic in Avon helped save her. So, we took the chance to reunite them by Zoom.

Daysha Owens, a registered nurse, cared for Cookie after she was released from the Intensive Care Unit to a step-down floor. Cookie remembered her right away on the call.

“Hi Cookie!” Daysha said after she joined.

“Oh, Daysha! How are you?” Cookie exclaimed.

“I’m good Cookie, how are you? You look great,” said Daysha.

Then, Katie Schwert, an ICU nurse who cared for Cookie at her darkest moments, joined the call. Cookie didn't remember her, as she was on a ventilator.

“Hi Cookie!” Katie said.

“Hi Katie. How are you? I don't really remember you, but I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart," Cookie said.

“I am so happy to see you. You look so good," Katie said.

Katie told us, she thought Cookie might not make it.

“There was a couple of times where we were really scared, and you can't show those emotions all the time," Katie said.

Cookie was comforted by the team at Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital, when she didn't have her loved ones by her side.

“I didn't have my family, but you were my family when I was there,” Cookie said.

“That team was amazing, and God bless them every single day for putting their on the line like they did for all the sick. And I am truly grateful for all they’ve done for me," Cookie said, fighting back tears. “They will forever be in my prayers, I can’t thank them enough.” 

Daysha and Katie say, nursing their destiny.

“It's what we chose. We did it for a reason and it's rewarding. It's rewarding to know that people go home and, you know, they do better," Daysha said.

Katie, feels the same.

“The fact that she's on the screen in front of me with her husband, and I can see them, and I could talk to them, and I can hear what her actual voice is, it's, it's honestly so amazing. I think that's really why a lot of us do this job ... is for that," Katie said.

Daysha and Katie, thank you for your dedication and service on the frontlines.

To say thank you, Salted Dough restaurant in Broadview Heights delivered meals for both Daysha and Katie's floors at Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital.

Credit: Credit: Salted Dough
Jeff Fisher, owner of Salted Dough in Broadview Heights, delivers meals to Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital.

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