Fil-Am front-line survivors recount ordeals
By Carol Tanjutco
May 22, 2020 at 10:04 am

Willy de Jesus, physical therapist and pastor of IFC and his daughter, Excelsa De Jesus, after her performance at the Philippine Consulate, for an Eagle Eye Charities fundraiser for Mindanao relief. De Jesus became seriously ill but has recovered from Covid-19. INQUIRER/Carol Tanjutco

NEW YORK – Hundreds of Filipino American medical personnel are exposed to the coronavirus every day. Of the reported 90 Filipino American fatalities, 40 were medical front liners, said Ambassador Claro Cristobal of the Philippine Consulate, which remains closed with only emergency consular services available by appointment.

Covid survivor Cristina Hucalla, RN, of New Jersey reported “loss of sense of smell and taste” among the symptoms.

Patients with Covid-19 also can show clinical manifestations including fever, nonproductive cough, dyspnea, myalgia, fatigue, normal or decreased leukocyte count and radiographic evidence of pneumonia.

Nurse Hucalla’s husband and her 29-year old daughter were infected as a result of her exposure at work.

After 15 days of recovery, Hucalla is back on the front line.


Willy De Jesus works as a physical therapist in a nursing home where PPEs were not adequately provided, limited to gloves and face masks.

His wife, Diane, and 21-year-old daughter, Excelsa, who was home for college break, and 24-year old son, Christian, all tested positive for COVID-19.

De Jesus, who is also  pastor of International Fellowship Church, was very ill for 7 days with high fever, vomiting and diarrhea, before he agreed to go to the hospital. His co-workers at the nursing home also became ill.

De Jesus described his 15 days of confinement and what kept him alive. He was at Albert Einstein Hospital (Montefiore Hospital Family), where he shared a room with another patient.

“We (couldn’t) go out of our room, no visitors were allowed to see me not even my family. The thing that helped patients like me was the support of the family. My family brought food and things that I needed in the hospital even though they couldn’t see me. They gave it to the guard to bring it to me through the nurse. I had constant communication with my family, like through messenger group chats, we prayed together. Also, support of our brethren and friends all over the US. Some of them sent my family messages, calls, vitamins, groceries, cooked food.”

He recalled one violent episode:

“Doctors should know that this virus can cause the blood to thicken, cause embolism, maybe the reason some patients in the ventilator had strokes. Doctors should give blood thinners. Convalescence Plasma Treatment helped me without side effects.

“The hydroxychloroquine also caused me atrial fibrillation that I almost died, my heart beat was 154 bpm, I saw it on my machine, I don’t know if it triggered my coughing ‘cause I was really coughing nonstop that I had chest pain and my oxygen saturation level dropped to 76, it felt like my heart would explode. That’s the worst feeling I had that I didn’t even have the strength to push the button to call the nurse. So, I just tried to relax and call upon the Lord for help and the will to live that I was able to overcome that episode.”

Shortly after De Jesus’ release from the hospital, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine was banned for use at hospitals because there was no clear evidence that it worked.

Now at home, recovering with the rest of his family, De Jesuse advises all front liners: “Health care workers must take precautionary measures to keep themselves safe like using adequate PPEs, frequent changing PPEs and hand washing every time they change. If possible, change PPEs every time they see a patient to avoid transmission of the virus. Follow guidelines on how to protect themselves with extra care.”

The De Jesus family continues to fight. His daughter, Excelsa, was recently crowned Miss Republic of the Philippines 2018-2020 whose singing debut was held at Feinstein Studio 54 last year. (

As Filipino community members in North America succumb to the disease, Facebook has turned into an obituary. Masses are offered online every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 11:00AM ET by Fr. Louis Scurti of St. Frances Cabrini/St John Nepomucene at Upper East Side.

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