Former Texas State University Student Thanks His Nurses After Surviving a Life-Threatening Illness

Angel Cortez with his ICU nurses

Twenty-three-year-old Angel Anthony Cortez, a former high school athlete and Texas State student, defied the odds in an extraordinary journey with a rare, life-threatening medical condition.

What started as a seemingly normal day for Cortez quickly spiraled into a harrowing ordeal that threatened to take away his mobility.

On Jan. 6, 2023, Cortez attended a friend's birthday party after work, unaware that his life was about to take an unexpected turn. Initially dismissing a tingling sensation in his hands, he carried on until two days later when his condition worsened. He later learned that this was a symptom of high blood pressure.

Worsening Symptoms, No Answers

The once-agile athlete found himself struggling with sluggishness in his legs, which turned a thirty-second walk into an arduous five-minute journey. Realizing something was very wrong, Cortez sought medical attention at an emergency room in New Braunfels, TX. After running blood tests, the doctors found no answers. Returning home for rest, he soon experienced a further deterioration in his symptoms.

“I woke up and my hands were already getting like kind of stuck together,” Cortez said.

Cortez decided to spend the rest of the night at a friend’s house so she could look after him. At 5 a.m., disaster struck. Cortez woke again, but this time, he was completely immobilized, unable to move at all.

With his situation rapidly worsening, his friend dialed 9-1-1, and Cortez was swiftly transported to CHRISTUS Santa Rosa in San Marcos. The last moment he remembers was undergoing an MRI after the administered morphine failed to work.

"To put it shortly, it sucks,” Cortez said. “I don’t really remember the first 2 and a half weeks. I was heavily sedated.”

Admitted to Critical Care

On Jan. 9, 2023, he was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at CHRISTUS, where the gravity of his condition became starkly apparent. Unable to breathe independently, Cortez’s body relied on the critical medical intervention of intubation for the next couple of weeks.

Intubation, a life-saving medical procedure, involves the insertion of a flexible tube called an endotracheal tube into the windpipe (trachea). This establishes and maintains an open airway, allowing for mechanical ventilation and the delivery of vital oxygen and anesthesia gases to the lungs.

Cortez’s reliance on this procedure underscored the severity of his situation, as intubation is typically performed by healthcare professionals, such as anesthesiologists or emergency medical personnel, and requires specialized training and equipment.

Soon after, while still fighting against the encroaching paralysis, Cortez could no longer swallow.

A Rare Diagnosis

Finally, doctors were able to diagnose him with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system.

After 15 days in the ICU, Cortez’s medical team determined that he needed a higher level of care, so he was transported to a different hospital in San Antonio, TX.

Jennifer Burger, a registered nurse in the ICU, recalls the difficulty they faced in getting him transported, especially with being on a ventilator and an IV with multiple medications.

“We worked pretty diligently for a while to get him over there,” Burger said. “I think he left shortly after our shift that night.”

The Road to Recovery

Thankfully, doctors in San Antonio, TX were able to restore Cortez’s mobility after performing a plasma exchange, a procedure that removes plasma from the blood and replaces it with new plasma fluid.

“I was honestly blown away,” Burger said, who had made the call to transfer.

After five months of unwavering determination and the unwavering support of his medical team, Cortez had the opportunity to express his gratitude firsthand. On June 5th, he met the team of nurses who had tirelessly cared for him during his recovery.

“It just makes our job so rewarding,” said Nikki Williams, another nurse who looked after Cortez. “What we do actually makes a difference.”

Cortez's encounter with his caregivers serves as a testament to their dedicated efforts, as he expressed his heartfelt appreciation for their role in his survival.

“Without them, I wouldn't be alive,” Angel said. “They worked tirelessly 24/7 to make sure that I was just taken care of in a way that because without them, I wouldn't be here.”

Today, Cortez's indomitable spirit shines as he embarks on a remarkable rehabilitation process. Although the road ahead to a full recovery may be challenging, his determination, coupled with the love and encouragement from his family, medical teams, and friends, provides unwavering strength.

Cortez’s story highlights the importance of having an ICU and exceptional medical care close to home. His journey serves as a beacon of hope for others who suffer from unexpected or complex health conditions.

As a final message to the staff who saved his life, Cortez simply says, "Just thank you for everything you guys did." His heartfelt appreciation serves as a reminder of the profound impact that dedicated healthcare professionals have on their patients' lives, making a difference when it matters most.