SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Shreveport respiratory therapist who received a double-lung transplant in July after contracting COVID-19 was transferred Friday from ICU to a room at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix.

And on Saturday, 51-year-old Byron Bolanos and his fiancé,’ Ragan Castille, spoke in a Zoom call with NBC6/FOX33 from his hospital room.

Following his surgery, Bolanos ventilator for several days, but his health care workers and therapists slowly weaned him off. He is now re-learning to talk using a speaking valve, so his voice is still very low, but getting stronger every day.

Byron Bolanos and fiance’ Rachel Castille
(Photo courtesy Rachel Castille)

Though Castille did most of the talking for him in the zoom call, it was easy to read his lips and see his broad smile.

Castille said though she was angry he had to go through so much, she is happy, “because he still has more time with all his family, he will one day walk his girls down the aisle. That was his main thing. Be there for grandkids.”

When Bolanos was stricken with COVID in late January, he had been a respiratory therapist at Ochsner LSU health for 22 years and had taken care of COVID patients since they started being admitted to the hospital in early 2020.

And, only two days after his admission, his condition worsened, and on Feb. 1, he was admitted into the hospital where he had worked for so many years to save others.

In the hospital, his condition continued to deteriorate, and by Feb. 5, the decision had been made to put him on a ventilator. Then, a little over a week later, his medical team decided to place him on a machine that replaces the function of the heart and lungs.  

Although he had survived so far, Bolanos’s lungs deteriorated to a life-threatening condition. If he was to survive, he would need a new set of lungs, and no one knew that better than he, a veteran respiratory therapist did.

So, in June, with the support of the entire hospital where he had labored so long,  Bolanos flew to Arizona to go through testing to find out if he could even qualify for a lung transplant.

After undergoing the testing, he was given a green light – St. Joseph’s informed that he did, indeed, qualify for the transplants.

After that, things began to accelerate at a rapid speed, and on July 10, Bolanos was wheeled into surgery to undergo a double-lung transplant – an operation that can take anywhere from four to eight hours to perform.

The surgery went well, and Bolanos spent the next month under close observation in St. Joseph’s surgical ICU ward.

When he was finally transferred to a room Friday, it was a victory ride, not only for Bolanos and Castille but also for his two daughters and his co-workers back home at Ochsner’s, as well as the hundreds of people who had watched his story unfold in the media.

He and Castille were eager to talk to the folks back home who have been so supportive in every way, from donating thousands of dollars to a GoFundMe account to co-workers at Ochsner’s donating 1500 hours of their vacation time to Bolanos – which amounts to more than eight-and-one-half months in 40-hour weeks.

Castille said she didn’t think Bolanos realized how loved he was until the outpouring from all over the community that stretched even further as people learned his story.

Bolanos said he is “thankful for the support and the prayers” that have been with him throughout his incredible journey, and added that he “hopes to see everybody soon.”