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Dr. Manuel Bulauitan, 74, is thanking everyone involved, especially his three sons, who are all doctors. They rushed to his side after their family noticed on FaceTime in mid-March that Bulauitan was sick.
"I am grateful that I'm here and my deepest thanks to all the medical professionals – from attending doctors and nurses – [they] are deep in my heart," Bulauitan told Fox News over the phone. "They tell me it's a miracle I survived."
His age, previous medical history, including chronic anemia and hypertension, and two intubations, put Bulauitan in danger. But because he met the qualifications for compassionate care as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, he was able to get a cocktail of experimental medications, including hydroxychloroquine.
The surgeon doesn't know when he contracted COVID-19, but it could've been at one of the hospitals or nursing homes where he worked, right up until he started showing signs.
Two of his sons, Dr. Philippe Bulauitan and Dr. Manuel Bulauitan Jr., both family medicine doctors in North Carolina, flew to his bedside on March 20.
They took him to Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where the oldest son, Major Dr. Constantine Bulauitan, an Army Reserve and trauma surgeon, works. He was there during his father's monthlong struggle to survive.
"I became very emotional," Bulauitan Sr. recalls. He remembers hearing his son reassure him that he was cared for, while holding his hand. Bulauitan was on a ventilator for 15 days.
All three sons are treating coronavirus patients.
"We grew up being inspired and admiring our dad for how he served his community and how hard he works," Dr. Philippe Bulauitan told Fox News. "And for us, the ultimate sign of respect is that all three of us followed in his footsteps. For someone who has cared for us our entire lives, to have the opportunity to help care for him and help save his life, it was the best thing we could’ve done."
Bulauitan Sr. adds, "I think I am one of the luckiest survivors to have three doctors as sons and have them care for me. Especially the Almighty. I thank him."
Going through the virus was a dark place that he said he wouldn't wish on anyone as it "sucked the hell out of me."
"This virus took me out of my practice that I love the most," he said. "Since I was a boy I wanted to be a doctor and a surgeon and here I am."
The lifelong faithful Catholic added, "I even questioned God. 'Why did you save me?' Do you have plans for me? Whatever plans you have, I will accept it.'"
For the past 40 years, he has gone to the Philippines to help with medical missions, doing surgeries in rural areas from sunrise to well after midnight. "If God wants me to continue that, I will do it," he said.
He jokes, with a nod to Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, "Maybe that's why God helped me recover. Maybe St. Peter isn't finished with my castle now. That's what I tell my friends."
He said he's been fighting retirement for years now, but at the insistence of his sons, he's finally going to give in, though he knows he will miss his colleagues, students and patients. Most of them supported him during his battle and he has called each of them to express his gratitude.
His wife of 45 years, Ekaterini, also tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered under the care of her sons.
"I'm most proud of how our entire family came together," added Dr. Philippe Bulauitan, who also tested positive along with his brother as they cared for their parents. "How we helped each other and how we can depend on one another."
Bulauitan Sr.'s road to recovery isn't over. Philippe's wife, Leah, who is a physical therapist, is helping him at their home in North Carolina with three of his grandchildren.
"Now the hardest part is to get back to my feet. I will do everything I can to stop this horrible coronavirus," he concludes. "I was always independent my whole life and I want to go back to that so I can enjoy my four grandchildren."