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Hospitalized with COVID-19 for months, Salem man urges people to get vaccinated before it's too late

"It's a cautionary tale of how important it is to get your vaccine. Don't wait, do it right away and save yourself heartache," David Alvarez, 49, said.

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon is seeing record COVID-19 hospitalizations. A 49-year-old dad from Salem was one of Oregon's sickest COVID patients, in the hospital for more than 80 days.

Careful throughout the pandemic, the virus still snuck its way into the Alvarez family.

"It's really hard to come back from COVID. I'm lucky I'm a survivor but my story could have been much different if I would have got vaccinated," David Alvarez said.

In late April, David's mom - who was vaccinated - got the virus from a sick unvaccinated family member. She developed a sinus infection and head cold and went to get tested. Sure enough, it came back positive.

David's mother passed the coronavirus to David, Karen and their 2-year-old Isaiah. Karen was vaccinated, David was not.

RELATED: Oregon COVID-19 hospitalizations set new record for a 2nd consecutive day

"In the back of my mind I was like, 'Yeah, OK, I'm gonna take care of that.' But the virus caught me first before I could get in and get vaccinated," David said, "I really wish I would have got vaccinated sooner."

The 49-year-old got the worst of it. He said other than thyroid disease he's healthy.

He was having trouble breathing just walking between rooms in the house. He checked his blood oxygen levels on his Apple Watch to find his oxygen saturation levels were very low, in the 80s. He called an ambulance for himself right away.

David went into the ICU at Salem Health and got so sick they transferred him to Legacy Emanuel. 

He developed hypoxia, low oxygen in his tissues, due to low oxygen in his blood.

"He had severe COVID pneumonia, a staph infection in his lungs. He was basically just suffocating," his wife Karen Alvarez said.

RELATED: All Oregonians 5 and older required to wear face masks in indoor public places, starting Friday

While at Legacy, he was put on the most intense form of treatment - an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine - for weeks. His blood was pumped and oxygenated outside his body to give his lungs and heart the ability to rest.

"Lots of ups and downs, it was a roller coaster. There were some times where you absolutely don't know what's gonna happen, to times where things are going well," Karen added.

Karen was in the hospital almost every day as the love of her life fought for his own.

"I just wasn't ready to not have him here," she said. "You miss the sound of their voice and their touch and them looking at you. It was a really tough road."

Finally, David improved enough that on Aug.1 he got out of the hospital - 82 days after first going in.

"He's just a miracle in and out of everything he's been through and he is so resilient, so strong," Karen told KGW. "It's all thanks to the team at Legacy, all those doctors and all those nurses that do all that hard work. Without them, our story would be completely different."

It all took a toll on his body and he's currently in recovery. He's working with a physical therapist and looking forward to getting his normal strength back and spending more time with his active 2-year-old.

As they watch cases and hospitalizations climb, the Alvarez family says they're living proof that vaccines make a difference.

"I'm better but it was still a very frightening thing to go through. Never want to go through this ever, I would never wish this upon anybody," David said. 

"I'm blessed to be here and to live to tell my story. And it's a cautionary tale of how important it is to get your vaccine. Don't wait, do it right away and save yourself the heartache."

Karen said she met other families in the ICU whose loved ones were 30 and 40 years old fighting for their lives. She said it's a stark reminder this virus does not discriminate. Younger, healthier people are filling up our hospital beds - especially those who aren't vaccinated.