In the days after America locked down, Adam Espinoza got sick.
“I felt like I was taking my last breaths,” the Reunion father of two said. He was experiencing flu-like symptoms and trouble breathing.
Adam’s wife, Tritia, rushed him to the Platte Valley Emergency Room in Brighton, but she couldn’t follow him in due to COVID restrictions.
“They just whisked him away, we didn’t even get to say ‘goodbye’ or ‘I love you,’ one last hug, nothing,” Tritia said tearfully.
It would be 34 days before she saw her husband again.
“Adam was one of our original COVID patients,” Dr. Steve Brizendine said.
He says those early days of the pandemic were challenging and scary for both patients and health care workers. Doctors put Adam on a ventilator immediately as he would stay on it for 17 days.
“I would see signs that say ‘don’t die,'” Adam said, he spent the next month in delirium, not understanding where he was, “I didn’t know if I was alive or dead I was having all these nightmares.”
While his family could only catch a glimpse of him from an iPad screen.
“Just a tube in his mouth, his eyes were shut,” Tritia said, “I just felt like my life was ripped apart. Hanging on to every minute trying to get updates from the hospital about his status and for the longest time it was just so scary.”
Adam was given only a 30% chance of survival, but miraculously, he beat the odds.
“Adam was one of those success stories,” Brizendine said.
Once home, Adam had to relearn everyday tasks.
“Drinking water, walking up the stairs, writing your name, he had to relearn everything,” Tritia said.
As time passed, Adam struggled with long-COVID, PTSD and survivor’s guilt. But also felt immense gratitude.
“How do you express that gratitude for a group of people that just saved your life,” Adam asked.
Nearly three years later, he came up with an answer. Adam, who is an artist and animator, began capturing the faces of Brizendine and five other caregivers in custom portraits.
“I thought what better way than to spend some time with their portraits their faces and pour that appreciation back into these paintings,” Adam expressed.
“To see them come to life on a canvas, it really just tugged at my heart,” Tritia said, “I would see their eyes on his canvas and think I know their eyes I know that person.”
Eventually, Adam presented Brizendine with the complete portrait.
“Last Friday, he brought it to the hospital and showed it to me and I was just awe-struck,” Brizendine said.
Adam still has four more portraits to complete, but Brizendine hopes to one day display them in the ICU, along with a description of their story, in hopes that it would help struggling future patients.
For Adam, creating the portraits is a tribute to the heroes who saved his life and risked their own.
“It’s not just me, that staff saved so many people,” Adam said, “they have such big hearts and they chose to be in a profession where they’re helping people.”
It’s also the final step in his recovery.
“It was just really healing,” Adam said. “It felt like it was finally enough at that point.”