TAMPA, Fla. - He spent almost two months in a coma, fighting for his life after contracting COVID-19. Wednesday, a Hillsborough County man got to come home from the hospital with a few surprise hugs along the way.
"I am so glad to be alive," said Julio Valdes, surrounded by family. "It's been a long journey."
Words like these are never spoken lightly. Back on Thanksgiving, 48-year-old Julio Valdes felt strange. His oxygen levels were dropping.
"He was dark, you know. like a blue," said his mother, Estrella Valdes. "He couldn't breathe."
His family called 911. That's the last thing he remembers. Julio was diagnosed with COVID-19, flown to Largo Medical Center, and spent nearly two months in a coma, on ECMO life support.
His father prayed.
"I said, 'Lord, let my son hear this: Son, wake up. Jesus is going to wake you up.' And he called me, he said, 'Dad, I heard your voice telling me that!'" Julio's father, Omar recalled.
January 10, Julio opened his eyes.
"I couldn't believe that I missed Christmas," Julio said. "Christmas for us is a very special time. We all get together and enjoy life, enjoy our families and our friends, and I missed it. I missed Thanksgiving, I missed Christmas, I missed New Year's. So glad 2020 is over. 2021 is another challenge ahead."
After another month of recovery, which included a 49th birthday in a hospital bed, Wednesday, Julio finally got to return home to Brandon with a special "welcome" display.
Before that, his parents coordinated a surprise detour to West Tampa for a hug they've waited nearly three months to have.
"Love your families, take care of your families, your family and friends are going to help you get through it," Julio Valdes said. "If it wasn't for my family and friends, I wouldn't be here now."
After a few emotional hugs, Omar Valdes still had some jokes for his son.
"You need a haircut," he laughed.
It's not lost on Julio how lucky he is.
"People, please wear your masks," Julio said. "This is not a joke. This is something that can kill you. I was in the hospital at Largo Medical where people around me were dying and they were younger than me, they were in better health than me."
His family credits their faith and a lot of prayer with carrying them to this very happy day.
"All I want to do is give the glory to God, our Father, you know, saving my son," Omar Valdes said.
"The doctors over at Largo Medical were amazing," Julio Valdes said. "I am just grateful to be alive and having my family around me."