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Indiana veteran discharged from hospital after 55-day battle with coronavirus

By ANNA ORTIZ | The Times | Published: May 27, 2020

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MUNSTER, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — After 55 days in the hospital, a 73-year-old veteran from Hammond was ushered out by hospital employees and family cheering and waving American flags.

Armando Blanco Sr. left Community Hospital in Munster last week after a long battle with coronavirus, his family said. Following a tracheotomy after being taken off the ventilator, his voice was just coming back.

When first seeing his son, Blanco Sr. said, “Thanks for waiting for me.”

His son replied, “No, thank you, Dad, for fighting.”

“The first time seeing him, all I could think is, ‘He’s a miracle,’ ” said Armando Blanco Jr., of Crown Point. “I was so relieved and so happy for him. All I kept telling him was, ‘Dad, I knew you could do it.’ The nurses were crying tears of happiness. I haven’t felt this much relief in the past 55 days.”

Blanco Jr. said he and his family have had video calls with Blanco Sr. almost every day during his stay at the hospital, where he saw staff covered in personal protective equipment tending to his father. He said medical staff have expressed how amazed they are at Blanco Sr.'s recovery.

Seeing them in person for the first time filled him with a sense of gratitude.

“Thanking the nurses, I feel like it’s never enough,” Blanco Jr. said. “They literally saved his life. How can someone thank someone for something that big?”

The Vietnam veteran was diagnosed with coronavirus March 29 and had remained in the hospital until May 22. During this time, he was on a ventilator under mild sedation to help with his difficulty breathing.

On March 23, Blanco went to his doctor after feeling tightness in his chest, and he was diagnosed with pneumonia. When symptoms continued, he went to a Hammond hospital, but he was not admitted, family said. On March 27, he was admitted to the ICU at Community Hospital, and the next day was tested for coronavirus.

On March 30, Blanco Sr.'s wife of 52 years, Carmen Blanco, tested positive for coronavirus, but because the 71-year-old had mild symptoms, she was able to self-isolate at home and is recovering well.

Blanco Sr., who served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was drafted at age 20. His daughter, Nancy Eickleberry, said he carries Veterans Day thank-you cards with him to give to fellow former military members and always stopped to chat if he noticed another veteran nearby.

“Veterans Day is my dad’s favorite holiday,” Eickleberry, of Dyer, previously said. “We walk with him in the Hammond parade, and he thanks everyone for their service.”

The 73-year-old is described as a family man who loves his wife, three children and grandchildren and has gotten the nickname, “The Mayor,” because he loves talking to people.

When his father was hospitalized, Blanco Jr. made a mealtrain.com account where people could sign up to drop off food to his mother, have meals delivered to her home and donate gift cards and funds. The account, called “Meal Train for Blanco Family,” has so far raised $8,840 to help the senior couple in their time of need.

Blanco Sr. still has a road of recovery ahead and was transferred to a physical rehabilitation facility in Merrillville to regain his strength. His family hopes he can return home after a couple of weeks. Blanco Jr. said a lot of people, from nurses to complete strangers, have told him they have been praying for his father to pull through.

“No matter what happens from here, we will always have this day and this moment to celebrate,” Blanco Jr. said. “I could only thank God for that second chance to be able to see him and talk to him. That’s something special that anyone would want. That second chance to be with someone they love. Now we are ready for him to come home.”

©2020 The Times (Munster, Ind.)
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