NPR’s Don Gonyea talks with Lorenzo Sierra, a member of the state’s House of Representatives, about his experience of surviving a severe case of COVID-19.
DON GONYEA, HOST:
As a national political correspondent, I spent a lot of my time on the road, especially in swing states and those that might join that list in any given election. That’s how I first met Phoenix-area State Representative Lorenzo Sierra – at a Democratic debate watch party in a neighborhood off downtown Phoenix two summers ago. He’s just the kind of contact a reporter likes to check in with every now and then just to keep an ear to the ground.
I did that again last June when I interviewed him for a story about how the pandemic had changed things for down-ballot candidates. Everything was different, he said at the time. It was all social distancing and Zoom calls – no more of the in-person voter contact he thrived on.
(SOUNDBIT OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
LORENZO SIERRA: If there’s a hand, I’ll shake it. If there is a baby, I will kiss it. And right now, we just don’t have those opportunities to do that.
GONYEA: At the time, Sierra told me that with solid turnout, Joe Biden could carry Arizona. Biden did carry the state – the first Democrat to do so since 1996. Sierra won his race, too. But along the way, a scary turn – just weeks before the election, he and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19. His case was very serious. Representative Lorenzo Sierra joins us now to talk about this and about a year that is about to finally be over.
Representative Sierra, welcome.
SIERRA: Thank you, Don.
GONYEA: So, first, how are you feeling? And, I guess, tell us the story of what happened to you.
SIERRA: So despite taking all the precautions, Don, I tested positive for COVID-19, and so did my wife. My wife ended up in an ER for one day, and I showed up in an ER and didn’t come home for 11 days. And in between, I was intubated, on a ventilator. And according to the doctor I talked to, had I not gone in when I went in, I would not have woken up the next day.
GONYEA: Do you have memories of what you were going through?
SIERRA: The last thing I remember is my wife FaceTiming with me. And she said, I’m asking you to fight like hell because I need you to come back to me. And I said, I’m going to fight. And the next thing I remember, I was waking up. The doctors were waking me up quite gently and were asking me a series of questions, one of which was, can you tell us your name? And in my mind, I thought, of course I can.
And when it came time to actually verbalize it, I just couldn’t remember, and I’m reaching for it. And it was absolutely horrifying because I couldn’t remember my name in that moment. They then asked me, do you know where you’re at? And I said, I’m at Sibley Memorial in Washington, D.C. And they said, no, you’re at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and you’ve been on a ventilator for four days. And again, in my mind, I thought I had just been out for a few minutes. And in between closing my eyes and opening them up again, I had been air evaced (ph).
And also, my family had been FaceTiming me even though I was unconscious. And I am sure that somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, that’s what helped pull me through.
GONYEA: How has this whole experience – going through a very serious bout of the coronavirus – changed you?
SIERRA: Judging by what source you’re looking at, I had anywhere from a 13 to 33% chance of getting through this, so it means I’ve got to be here for a reason. And that reason, perhaps, is to make sure that those who don’t have the resources in life have the wherewithal to get those and to start living a more fulfilled and prosperous life.
And whether it is to be a voice for the voiceless and fight for those who can’t defend themselves, those are the things that I believe I am here for, and those are the things that I will keep doing. I’m going to cherish every moment of this holiday season with my family because I have been given that second chance, Don, and I’m going to make the most of it.
GONYEA: We still see people gathering in groups without masks, a lot of it related to the holidays and that desire to be together. How do you react to that?
SIERRA: We’ve gone through quite the heck of a year, but we’ve got to hang on. The vaccine is here, and assuming we can all be patient with its delivery and that it can be delivered in a fair and equitable and speedy manner, then this time next year, we can do those things that we’ve been accustomed to – that we can get back to family, and we can go to our favorite pubs and raise a glass to life and happiness and all those things that we’ve been missing out this year.
It’s going to take some time, but we can get there, and it’s going to take patience and sacrifice. And I’m just hoping that people can hear that, yes, it’s much appreciated that those of us who are doing the things that we need to do can continue to do those. And hopefully, we get past this virus as soon as possible.
GONYEA: We’ve been talking to Arizona State lawmaker Lorenzo Sierra.
Sir, continued good health to you and your wife and to your entire family. And thanks for sharing your experiences with us.
SIERRA: Don, thank you so much. And happy holidays to everybody. And we’ll see you in 2021.
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