Nearly a month after noticing COVID-19 symptoms and two weeks after leaving the hospital himself, Louis Meza is still locked in a battle with the virus, but this time it's his wife he's supporting as she fights for her life.
After breaking out in a high fever, coughing up blood and struggling to breathe over the span of six days at Marian Regional Medical Center, Louis was discharged on March 28.
The same day the Santa Maria resident came home, Louis' wife, Melissa, was admitted to the hospital's intensive care unit with severely low oxygen levels.
Melissa, 43, has now been on a ventilator for 13 days, remaining stable but still relying almost entirely on assisted oxygen to breathe, her husband said.
Louis, who shared his family's experience with the virus in a March 30 Facebook video that received tens of thousands of views, has been encouraging the public to adhere to social distancing to prevent themselves and their loved ones from finding themselves in a similar situation.
After Louis and Melissa Meza were hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19, Louis decided to inform the community about the devastating impact of the virus on his family in hopes of convincing the public to take it more seriously.
Despite the worry and grief he is experiencing, Louis, 47, said he is trying to remain positive and stay strong for Melissa, who he said is able to talk using Facetime with the help of Marian nurses.
"The hospital has been incredibly supportive. I talk to her, tell her that her kids miss her, I miss her, that she needs to keep fighting, that her parents miss her. I'm looking forward to that day when I can just hold her and hug her," Louis said from his home.
Melissa, an operations employee at Mechanics Bank, is deeply loved in the community for her kindness and generosity, Louis said. The two met in high school, and have been married for 24 years.
"She’s very kindhearted. She would do everything, as I would, for anybody," he said.
Breanna, Louis and Melissa's 22-year-old daughter, said if she was the one who was sick, she knows her mother would do everything she could to help her, even if she was sick herself.
"She's the type that would help somebody else out before herself ... that's just the kind of mom she is," said Breanna, who is living in Japan.
Central Coast businesses have been volunteering their labor to get 175,000 N95 masks with deteriorated straps in shape for use by Marian Regional Medical Center.
Although she talks with her father each day to receive updates, Breanna said she feels helpless being so far away and unable to come home. For that reason, she is thankful that her brother, Anthony, is home and able to help out her father.
"Ever since this whole thing started, it doesn't feel real. I can't believe this is happening to us," she said. "With me not being home, my brother has really stepped up to the plate ... and I'm so proud of him."
The Meza family has received an outpouring of community support since Louis shared his story on social media, with individuals reaching out from all parts of the country and the world to send wishes of healing and inquire about Melissa's status.
"The support has been overwhelming. We have thousands of prayers from everybody around the U.S. and in this area," Louis said.
Despite recovering steadily over the last weeks, the father of two who is a chef at the Hitching Post in Casmalia, is still forced to quarantine at home since testing positive again for COVID-19 this week, showing that his body still may be fighting off the virus.
While COVID-19 testing has increased in Santa Barbara County with a faster turnaround on results, Public Health Department officials still say…
He will be taking another COVID-19 test in the coming days to check his status, and must continue waiting before resuming work.
In order to help relieve financial stress for Louis and Melissa, Breanna and her brother's fiance, Elyana, have started a fundraiser through GoFundMe, which reached over $14,500 in donations just one day after it was opened.
Louis said the generosity from the community shown through the fundraiser has been amazing as he struggles to make ends meet.
"It's getting harder and harder every day. I'm still quarantined at home and I can't go anywhere. I haven't worked in over a month, and neither has my wife, and we filed for unemployment but we haven't gotten it yet," he said.
Along with regular bills that need to be paid, medical costs have also been stacking up the longer Melissa is at the hospital, but Louis is determined to pay whatever it takes to make her better.
"I told [the doctors], 'I’ll sell my house, I’ll do anything,'" he said.
Some bill collectors have tried to reduce the financial load on Louis after he explained his situation. One employee, he said, waived Louis' late fees because he was so affected by his story.
"He told me, 'I'm going to stay home more often now. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.' It felt like I helped somebody else out," Louis said.
Once his wife is able to come home, Louis said he will be able to care for her directly since he has already had the virus.
In the meantime, he has been awaiting daily calls from the hospital, updating loved ones on her status, accepting deliveries of food and supplies from friends, and continuing to regain his strength.
"I sit here at home and I pray all day long. I just keep myself not doing much right now. I need to be healthy when my wife comes home," Louis said.