SUN CITY CENTER, Florida (April 23, 2020) – South Bay Hospital employees helped celebrate with a COVID-19 patient who was discharged on April 23. They had been providing lifesaving care for the patient over the past eighteen days.
Leonardo Begazo, a 47-year-old husband and father of three was admitted to South Bay Hospital through the Emergency Department on April 5. A nurse himself, he credits God with bringing him to South Bay Hospital.
“When I came here I was so anxious and my anxiety level was so high. I couldn’t breath and I didn’t think I knew anyone here,” said Begazo.
Upon arrival at South Bay Hospital’s Emergency Room, Begazo saw a familiar face as Barbara Latham, a fellow nurse he had once taught alongside, came over to assume his care.
“My anxiety immediately started to decrease,” said Begazo. “The whole team here is amazing. The caring and compassion — I feel like a family member. This hospital will forever be a special part of my family. You can teach skills, but you cannot teach this compassion.”
South Bay Hospital had prepared early on for the Coronavirus pandemic. The staff of caregivers were ready to provide an environment of healing for Begazo and others that would arrive in similar condition.
“Our hospital ramped up early. We spent hours, days thinking through scenarios and we were prepared,” said Dan Bender, South Bay Hospital CEO. “We are part of HCA Healthcare and have this large and advanced network behind us. We put into place precautions and best practices that were shared across HCA’s network.”
After admission Begazo’s health declined rapidly and he was placed on a ventilator.
“I think about the people I’m caring for constantly. He is a nurse, like me and close to my age,” said Amy Nordyke, a nurse at South Bay Hospital who provided care for Begazo. “I thought about his family and his children and I rooted for him each day.”
Nordyke recalls working closely with Begazo’s wife and doctors to build communication between the couple as they had to talk through hard medical decisions.
South Bay Hospital’s Chief Nursing Officer, Marcy Frisina, stressed how important communication is between the hospital caregivers and patient families.
“We have created a culture of family at South Bay and embrace our patients into this culture,” said Frisina. “We want to ensure that both our patients and their families feel included. We want to be certain that they know we are going to provide them with exceptional and healing care.”
Begazo doesn’t remember much from those days, but there are a few moments that he will never forget.
“I would see one of the doctors walk by my room in ICU and he would knock on the glass each time and make his hands like he was praying,” said Begazo. “When I came off the ventilator I saw him and told him how grateful I was that he had prayed for me.”
Begazo remembers the feeling of caregivers holding his hand and whispering words of strength and inspiration into his ear.
“I remember every time someone came in and held my hand and whispered in my ear or saying prayers with me. Every time they were holding my hand, I felt love. And that was more important than any medicine or ventilator,” recalls Begazo. “The compassion was beyond comparison and the love I received in the critical moments was exactly what I needed to survive.”
“I remember I spoke with Leo the very first day he arrived at the hospital and he was terrified,” said Laura Shotzberger, Director of Case Management at South Bay Hospital. “Every day he was scared we were there for him. The doctors were there for him. The nurses were there for him. He told me when he got off the ventilator that our team had been whispering in his ear encouragement. He told me he was so grateful for everyone and what they did. Those patients and those type of stories are what we are all here in healthcare to do.”
As Begazo prepared for his discharge from South Bay Hospital, he reflected on how the experience has changed his approach as a nurse.
“I love being a nurse, and I understand better now why God put me on this path. I have always tried to give my best for my patients, but now I appreciate more the importance of bringing strong compassion to my patients,” said Begazo.
He looks forward to seeing the smiling faces of his family and wants to commit using this experience to help other through faith and service.
Begazo’s family came together to try to support one another through his illness.
“These past three weeks have been full of mixed emotions for our family,” said Jonathan Begazo, Leonardo’s brother, who describe how scary the period has been as the family came to understand Begazo was fighting for his life.
Jonathan describes how the hospital became a pillar of support to his family offering continuous updates and giving the family confidence in the care Begazo was receiving.
“The phone operators, nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, therapists, admin staff, etc— they were all very nice and professional. We were able to establish a great communication channel through them, and my brother was able to receive all of our messages of love and support,” said Jonathan. “Besides the medical treatment, the emotional support and compassion displayed towards us was out of this world. I know nurses are heroes because my brother is one, but these nurses really took it to the next level.
The caregivers at South Bay Hospital lined the sidewalks to wish “Mr. Leo” good health as he left the hospital.
“Watching him leave today means success,” said Chona Trevino, a South Bay Hospital nurse who provided care to Begazo. “I believe everything happens for a reason and Mr. Begazo’s story is filled with true blessings. We are a small hospital, but that is not reflective of the size of our hearts here.”
“Our team of caregivers are heroes in my eyes. Here at South Bay Hospital we really live out our mission statement,” said Bender. “Above all else we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.”
About South Bay Hospital
South Bay Hospital is committed to delivering exceptional care and service to Florida’s Hillsborough and Manatee Counties. Founded in 1982 the hospital is a member of HCA-Healthcare in the West Florida Division. The 138-bed community hospital offers a wide variety of patient-centered services to the community including 24-hour Emergency Services, Cardiology, General Surgery, and Orthopedics. A longstanding leader in the Southshore community, South Bay Hospital remains committed to providing advanced medical services, expert healthcare providers and a dedicated care team focused on creating an exceptional experience for every patient, every time.