Jesus Mancha has a list.
His wife, Marisol, produced it for him early into a conversation about how he survived a three-month battle against COVID-19: Dr. Saritha Kortikere, Dr. Anita Scribner, Dr. Venkatesh Donty, Dr. David Jayakar, Dr. Glenn Genovese, acute care nurse practitioner Chad Crossland, Dr. Gautam Baskaram, Dr. Adam Yu, Dr. William Torres III and Dr. Rodney Slone.
Those are just the names he knows of the many health care workers who helped him along the way. He believes the larger list of people who supported him and his family — nurses and others in the hospitals who cared for him, people who provided meals and prayers — is in the hundreds, maybe the thousands.
“I love this town. I love the people, and this illness has really opened my eyes even more to why I love this town,” Mancha said this past week at his Longview home.
He was finally at home, with his family. He has more recovery ahead as he works to regain his strength, but his focus was on how thankful he is to the people who helped him and his family. The Manchas are Hispanic, he said, but people of all races cared for them.
“I had the best medical care I could get anywhere in this country,” Mancha said. “This sickness made me realize that I was right — I don’t want to live anywhere else.”
Mancha hails from a family that has long been a part of the fabric of East Texas. His father, Ricardo “Lupe” Mancha, was a manager for El Chico restaurant in its early years, until he and his wife, Flor Estela, decided to start their own business, Lupe’s Mexican Restaurant. The restaurant chain operated for about 35 years, with Jesus continuing the business after his father’s death in 2009 and on his mother’s behalf until he closed the business in 2016.
Jesus and his wife have three adult children who, like him, all graduated from Longview High School: Jessica, a speech pathologist who works in a local nursing home; David, a teacher at Judson STEAM Academy; and Daniel, who attends Texas A&M University.
“I always thought (the coronavirus) was more dangerous than people thought,” Jesus said, as he and Daniel recalled how Mancha made predictions about how the virus would spread in America that came true, time and again. Mancha described telling his youngest son that, because of the virus, he likely wouldn’t be returning to school in College Station after spring break.
“We were careful,” Jesus said, describing how he and his family wore masks and avoided crowds early in the pandemic.
Still, everyone in the Mancha family became ill, although Daniel had minor symptoms. The family says tests confirmed Jesus and David had COVID-19, but it was assumed for Marisol and Jessica since they became ill and live in the same house.
“Me and my boy both got sick,” Jesus said of David. His son, though, ran a high fever. “I never had a fever, ever.”
It was early April, though, and it was hard to get tested. He said the first clinic he took his son to wouldn’t test him.
“He didn’t fit the criteria,” Jesus said, explaining that his son was 24 at the time, now 25.
The family used a pulse oximeter to measure the oxygen level in David’s blood. It fell into the 80s% range, which Jessica said was alarming.
“(David) finally, he got so weak I took him to one of those 24-hour clinics,” Jesus said, and his son was taken by ambulance to Longview Regional Medical Center. It was a Wednesday. David returned from the hospital three days later to quarantine at home as he continued to recover.
Hospitalization to home
By that Sunday, Jesus’s condition had deteriorated.
Jessica recalled seeing her father sitting at the table that morning, struggling to breathe. She checked his oxygen level as well.
“If it wasn’t for the oximeter, I might not be here,” Jesus said. “Another day might have been too late.”
Jesus said he’d had his first physical in October, and his doctor, Kortikere, had told him he didn’t have high blood pressure and he wasn’t diabetic. He did start a diet, though, and had lost 34 pounds by the time he became ill.
“I was just zapped of energy completely,” he said, and expressed concern that there’s so much reliance on temperature screenings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, considering that he didn’t have a fever.
He was admitted to Longview Regional immediately, he said, and tested for COVID-19.
It was April 5. On April 8, he was placed on a ventilator, with his daughter documenting his illness in a timeline she kept.
“I went through a lot, but I should be home free, God willing,” Jesus said. “The true suffering was with my family.”
Also on April 8, his wife and daughter were ill. Jessica said she never had fever, although her mother did. They both had labored breathing, but recovered within a couple of weeks. David was sick for about a month.
Marisol and Jessica recalled getting a phone call from Jesus while they were at Diagnostic Clinic of Longview for an EKG to determine if they could be treated with hydroxychloroquine.
Jesus told his wife, “He wasn’t going to make it.”
“He was saying goodbye,” Marisol said.
“You’re going to be just fine,” she remembers telling him. “You’re going to be home next week. Well, three months later, he was home.”
Jesus also called his sons at home and made a phone call to family friend John King, Longview ISD athletic director and Lobo head football coach.
“I told him to watch over Daniel. My family was going to raise him right, but there’s nothing like a strong male figure,” Jesus said.
Jesus was on a ventilator for more than 60 days, from April 8 to June 8, Jessica says, but he said he doesn’t remember any of that time beyond the strange dreams he had.
His mother died April 11, three days after he was placed on a ventilator, a date Jessica noted as the day “Abuela passed” in the timeline she kept.
“She was heartbroken,” Marisol said, with the family adding that Flor Estela died of a heart attack.
Light a candle
Jesus said before he went to the hospital, he had called his mother and asked her to light a candle for him. He usually talked to her several times a day, and he believes she passed away believing that he had already died.
During that time, the nurses caring for Jesus would call the family on their phones and allow them to speak to him even though he was heavily sedated. For the first time in their 29-year-marriage, Marisol and Jesus were separated when they celebrated their anniversary April 26.
Her father’s condition was “up and down” for the first two or three weeks, Jessica said, with Marisol describing receiving bad news every day.
In the meantime, they said, Kortikere — who would sometimes call Marisol late at night to update her on her husband’s condition — and other physicians began a nationwide search for plasma from someone with Jesus’s specific blood type who also had been sick with COVID-19. The antibodies in that person’s blood were expected to help Jesus survive.
A match was found through the Mayo Clinic, the family said, and two transfusions later, Jesus’ condition stabilized.
“That’s what saved me, most likely,” Jesus said.
He had “great doctors,” he said.
“I need to thank them all.”
Jesus went from Longview Regional to Select Specialty Hospital inside Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center and finally to physical rehabilitation at Christus. He said he lost 100 pounds while in the hospital.
His family wasn’t able to visit until those last couple of weeks at Christus. Once he was off the ventilator and awake, the hardest part, Jesus said, was not being able to see his family at first, and not being able to drink water until he had been cleared to eat and drink.
He returned home Tuesday, with a homecoming car parade organized by King. He ate Whataburger for dinner, and on Wednesday, he and his family celebrated his 54th birthday with a meal from Olive Garden.
Being home has its challenges — trying to shower while he’s not at full strength and dealing with a lingering cough. He’ll continue with physical therapy.
“I’m trying to bust my butt. I want to walk as soon as I can,” he said. “I’m not asking for anything. I already got my miracle.”
When he spoke Thursday, he was planning to be sitting today in St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Then, in the coming days he has plans to see his mother’s grave and to start visiting the many people he wants to thank in person.
“My kids are young. We all go through phases. Faith can be difficult,” Jesus said. “Most of us as we get older, most of see so many things in our lifetime that we increase our faith. We’ve always been pretty faithful, but for my young kids, it’s so inspiration to see them to know what it means to have nobody else to turn to, to have to have faith. “