COVID-19 patient in Iowa reconnects to family in Laredo

LAREDO, TX (KGNS) - A Laredo man living in Iowa is critically ill with COVID-19, and thanks to a co-worker who refused to give up, he has reconnected with his family.

"I just feel like I made a Facebook post, answered a few messages and calls, but it was everyone's efforts that came together. It was the small things that added up to one big thing and that was getting to find Jose's family."

Zach Medhaug and Jose Ayala, a Laredo native, are among the dozens of Tyson employees who tested positive for COVID-19 after an alleged outbreak at their Waterloo, Iowa facility.

Zach was fortunate he was able to get by with only mild allergy-like symptoms, but unfortunately, his friend Jose was not as lucky.

Zach says in a blink of an eye, Jose went from feeling symptoms at his home to now being sedated in a bed, connected to a ventilator at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.

Due to Jose's health declining quickly, he was not able to let his family in Laredo know about his diagnosis.

"We'll talk about a lot of stuff, we know each other very well, I knew he had family in Laredo, he was from Laredo. So we began research."

Zach says Jose has been living in Iowa for about six years, but with no family members listed as an emergency contact, Zach knew he had to find another way.

Determined to find his friend's family to give them the news of Jose's COVID-19 battle, Zach and his family decided to turn to social media.

"It was really hard at first, I didn't know who to reach out to or begin the search."

He posted a picture of Jose in hopes the right Laredoan would see it, and his hunch was right. That's when the comments, tags and shares started.

Thousands of people doing all they can to help connect the Ayala family.

"It was May 1st, is the morning that we decided to send it out and it had been out about six hours from the time posting, which was very, very early like three or four a.m., and by 11:30 we had already been on the phone with his brother and father."

Zach says the Laredo Police Department helped verify it was the correct family members, but his sweet success quickly turned bitter when he was tasked to update the Ayala family on Jose's critical condition.

"They say he's not fighting corona anymore, he is fighting the damage that the machines on medication he had to have to survive corona. So it attacks major organs.

"It's hard everyday because they call me and ask me to take him off the ventilator. But his chances of surviving off the ventilator are almost none. The family I have spoken and we feel like it's not the end of Jose's time."

Zach says the Ayala family will not be traveling to Iowa to not risk COVID-19 exposure while traveling, and because no one can enter the hospital.

The only way to see Jose is through face chat, which Zach and the Ayala family now participate in everyday.

"Jose has never been out of a position that was on his stomach until today, and got a hold of his family in the last two days, so I don't think it's a coincidence at all but they called and they told her say to fight through this and that we love you."

Zach says he will not lose hope in Jose's recovery and a lot of it has to do with the support that came for the Laredo community.

"The kindness of the community is what brought Jose's family and got us all in touch with each other."

Zach says on Monday Jose was able to lay on his back for a couple of hours, a positive update since in the past weeks he has been laying on his stomach, a position many doctors say help the sickest coronavirus patients increase the amount of oxygen that's getting to their lungs.