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Family Members Reflect On Father-And-Son Doctors Who Died Of COVID-19

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Jorge Vallejo was a retired OB-GYN. His son, Carlos, practiced internal medicine. The doctors were widely respected in the medical community in South Florida. Both men were hospitalized on Father's Day with COVID-19, and both have since died within weeks of one another. We spoke with Carlos' sons.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHARLIE VALLEJO: Must've been about, like, 12:30 in the morning. I take my grandfather to the hospital. I'll never forget. They tell us, like, hey, have you guys checked his temperature? Because he has a bit of a fever. Once he said that, my heart kind of, like, sunk for a little bit. I figured, wow, he might have COVID. My name is Charles Vallejo. I am 26 years old. I am a third-year medical student.

KEVIN VALLEJO: My name is Kevin Vallejo, Charlie's younger brother. I'm 23 years old, currently in my first year of medical school in Miami. In our family, we have over 20 doctors. Just within our first cousins...

C VALLEJO: Here.

K VALLEJO: ...There's 20 doctors.

C VALLEJO: Generations, generations of doctors. My great-grandfather is really the first one in the family to be a physician. So he was a doctor in Cuba. You know, my grandfather was in medical school. And that's when Batista took over power in Cuba, and they shut down the universities. So my grandfather and his brother had to move to Spain to continue their medical education. So - sorry, he would always say that he has three medical diplomas. He has one for Cuba, one from Spain and one from the U.S., so that was always, like, his little fun fact about him. He came here with nothing but the clothes on his back and whatever he could take with him in his pockets.

So my grandfather when he first got here, he just got any job in the hospital working as a janitor or whatever it took just to get a position in the hospital while he tried to study English and take his medical boards. It took about 10 years, and he finally ended up passing everything. And him and his brother both became accredited doctors here in the U.S.

My grandfather was an OB-GYN, practiced down here for over 45 years in the Miami community. He saw people from all walks of life. He saw poor Cuban immigrants, famous celebrities. And yeah, he was just revered in the community. He's delivered thousands of babies over the years. Pretty incredible story.

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C VALLEJO: They did a quick test on him. And sure enough, he was COVID-positive. So he gets admitted to the ICU. We come back home. And around 3:30 in the morning, I wake up hearing the sirens of an ambulance, opened my door, and I see my dad getting put on a stretcher into the ambulance. So imagine, they're both admitted not to the hospital on Father's Day within three hours of each other. Fast-forward six days later, the following Saturday, June 27, my grandfather passes from COVID.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAD LAWSON'S "BEAUTIFUL THE NIGHT")

C VALLEJO: You know, survived leaving communist Cuba, had survived a previous heart attack when he was younger, and this is what took him - coronavirus. So that was a huge shock for all of us. As you can imagine, my dad is very close to my grandfather. We had to break the news to him. It was pretty heartbreaking having to tell him that over FaceTime. So imagine, he's crying in a room by himself. He just lost his father. And he's not having any human contact. He's surrounded by machines. So I think that kind of, like, broke him in a way.

After that, I think my father's health just started deteriorating a little more and more every day. So he actually lasted three weeks without a ventilator. On July 11, he called us, saying that he felt too short of breath, that he had to be put on a vent. So that's probably the last time we ever spoke to him, July 11. August 1 is when he passed from COVID.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAD LAWSON'S "BEAUTIFUL THE NIGHT")

K VALLEJO: This is Kevin talking now. I was supposed to start school on August 3. Yeah, it's been tough. I thought this was going to be, like, a, you know, an exciting time in my life, starting my own path towards becoming a physician. But it's been the worst two months I've ever experienced. I think now my driving force is just to live up to my dad's legacy and carry on the tradition of Dr. Vallejo down here in South Florida. You know, it's a name that the patients trust. They know our family would always put patients before our own lives. He was, like, the best dad I could have ever hoped for.

INSKEEP: Kevin Vallejo and his brother Charlie recalling their late father and grandfather, who both died from COVID-19.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAD LAWSON'S "BEAUTIFUL THE NIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.