‘It’s almost a storybook ending’: One of Spokane’s first COVID patients sees journey come full-circle

SPOKANE, Wash – One of the first critically ill COVID-19 patients in Spokane saw his journey come full circle last week, when his son received his second dose of the COVID vaccine. It marks the end of a long journey, with an incredible twist of fate along the way.

Ryan Ragaza-Bourassa spent four weeks at Providence Sacred Heart Hospital last March and April, most of it on a ventilator and in a coma. He was one of the first patients in Spokane and his initial diagnosis took days to come. While he was in the hospital and unresponsive, his wife, sons and friends used Facetime and Zoom to communicate with him. They read books,  they told stories, his sons even did play-by-play for old WSU Cougar football games saved on his DVR.

“Most of the time he was in the coma, it was not looking good,” said Ryan’s wife, Anna.

Medical professionals who cared for Ryan during that time agreed that his prognosis was not good.

“He was with us for a long time,” said Christa Arguinchona, program manager for special pathogens and infection prevention at Sacred Heart. “There were many of us who wondered, would he survive or would he not survive?”

Arguinchona helped administer Remdesivir to Ryan as part of a clinical trial. At the time, he had a 50-50 chance of getting a placebo. Even if he got the drug, there was no guarantee it would work.

After two weeks in a coma, Ryan’s condition improved. He was still on a ventilator, but was awake – and, acutely aware of how serious things were for him.

“You wake up and it’s like [the movie] Outbreak,” he said. “You look up and they’re fully masked, full PPE, they have to wipe everything down. It was, like, this is incredible. It was like I was in a movie, but more like a nightmare.”

That nightmare went on for several more days. He was awake, but still not able to see his family. He was scared, but not alone, thanks to the team of men and women who had cared for him around the clock.

“They were like my family there,” Ryan said.

“I know Ryan would say he has vivid memories of being in this room and wanting to take that tube out,” said Arguinchona. “Those are hard days.”

It was still early in the pandemic. It was a time of uncertainty and loss. Finally, for Ryan and the medical team, there was a win. On April 21st, four weeks after he left his family for what could have been the last time, Arguinchona walked behind as Ryan was wheeled out of the hospital. He made his way through a team of cheering medical staff; the Andy Grammar song “Back Home” played, just like it does at every Cougar football game.

Outside, he met up with Anna and their sons, Noah and Micah, who had also just been through the worst ordeal of their lives.

“The hallway was packed,” Arguinchona remembers. “There were so many people. We all got overwhelmed and emotional… It was a significant moment of hope.”

Fast-forward 387 days to May 13th – another significant moment of hope.

Arguinchona just happened to be volunteering at the Providence vaccine clinic at Gonzaga when Anna and Ryan brought in Micah for his second shot, and Noah for his first.

This long-time critical care nurse was able to do something that seemed unthinkable all those months ago.

“For me to vaccinate Noah… it was a pretty powerful moment,” she said. She told the 12-year old she would get herself together before giving him the shot, but for Ryan and Anna and the other nurses nearby, it was a tear-filled moment for all of them.

“I thought that was incredible,” Ryan said. “Almost a storybook ending.”

For the Ragaza-Bourassas, there was no doubt they would get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I just want to protect and my family and other people, especially my dad for what he’s been through,” Noah said.

Arguinchona vaccinating Noah was a full-circle moment you don’t often see in critically ill patients. Ryan now has a bond with his caregivers, sending them text messages and even bringing them dinner to thank them. He sees their bond as something he hopes to continue.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget being that close to death,” he said. “I truly am grateful to have them in my life. And I’m thankful they accepted me and keep in touch.I’m hoping that continues for the rest of my life.”

It’s a connection – and, a moment – not lost on the team that helped save his life.

“When you see him standing there, knowing how close he was to death… then you have this syringe with this tiny little bit of substance in it and you think ‘wow – this is not just going to save his son’s life, but all the other people we’re vaccinating.’ That’s pretty incredible,” Arguinchona said.

Ryan’s recovery is going well, 15 months later. His heart and lungs are healthy. He sees a counselor to get him through the lasting emotional impacts of his traumatic experience.