On March 13, 2020, Methodist Hospital admitted its first coronavirus patient. Dan Miller, CEO of Methodist Hospital and Methodist Children’s Hospital, said he remembers that day clearly.

“I’ll always remember when I went up to the ICU unit that she was admitted to and I watched the care team prepare to intubate her,” he said.

“This is a team that had practiced and done this and treated many, many patients – one of the most experienced teams you could find. But they were practicing outside the room, over and over again to make sure when they went into the room to do it, that they were safe and that they did a great job for her. I can remember that like just yesterday.”

Miller stood outside of the main entrance to the hospital in the South Texas Medical Center. He and about 30 others holding electric candles gathered there Saturday night to commemorate one year of treating more than 3,200 coronavirus patients at the hospital and to honor the lives lost during the pandemic.

A participant holds an electric candle during the vigil at Methodist Hospital. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

One of those lives belonged to Frances Garza, who died on Jan. 28.

Frances Garza, 80, had five children. Her eldest daughter, Aurora Perkins, said her mother was like an attentive hen to her offspring – so much so that she insisted on her ashes being buried in an urn shaped like a hen with her chicks.

“She had a big personality and everything about her was big,” Perkins said. “She had a big laugh. She had big sneezes that the whole neighborhood could hear and feel. She had big opinions. … She was our biggest supporter and she was our hardest critic, and we’re all better for it.”

Perkins thanked the hospital staff who treated her mother in January, including nurse Roger Ruiz, whom Garza nicknamed “Roger the Dodger.” He’s not a Dodgers fan, Ruiz clarified, but he accepted the nickname from his friendly patient.

“Taking care of her was really easy,” he said. “And the hardest thing for me to do was to have that talk with the family, that she just wasn’t going to make it. We tried. We tried really hard.

“And that’s actually the hardest part for dealing with any of our patients, because we spend a lot of time with those types of patients.”

But Ruiz can see the improvement in Bexar County-area COVID cases already. The positivity rate fell below 3% on Monday and hospitalization numbers have been falling somewhat steadily since the beginning of March. Last week, Ruiz tended to a heart transplant patient – the first non-COVID patient he’s seen since May.

“He was in for something completely different,” Ruiz said. “But I just remember because I was like, ‘Heart transplant!’ It was kind of weird. Weird in a good way. It’s been a long time since I dealt with something outside of COVID.”

Garza was in the hospital for about two weeks before she died from COVID-19. Though he was not able to visit her in the hospital, her son Mario Garza said he was able to say goodbye to her over FaceTime.

“Her last words were ‘I feel good, mijo. I’m OK,’” he said. “I told her I loved her and she said she loved me. She left at peace and happy. She went on her terms.”

Mario Garza and his family receive flowers from Methodist Hospital staff following the ceremony honoring lives lost to COVID-19. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Mario Garza remembers his mother for her joyfulness and wicked sense of humor. She liked to tell people they were No. 1 and slyly flip up her middle finger, he said.

“[When] we were all getting together, having barbecues or something, hanging out, she was always the center of attention,” he said. “She kept us all laughing.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.