Engineer James Huerta: A battle with Covid

James Huerta [Victor Moreno]

James Huerta caught COVID-19 in November 2020. Despite his incredible physical shape, the coronavirus hit hard.

It all started the Saturday before Thanksgiving when Huerta was informed his whole team had come down with the virus and he needed to get tested.

Huerta and his wife Beth both went to a testing site at midnight in Gilbert and a few hours later, the results came back positive.

“OK, well, let’s see what happens,” Huerta recalled. “Early evening that Sunday, I’m sick and not feeling good. It felt like the flu, no big deal. But Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — I’m feeling worse each day.”

On Thursday morning, symptoms worsened, and Huerta decided to go to the hospital.

“They checked me out,” he remembered. “They’ve got me on double IVs, oxygen and I hear them whispering behind the curtain and I can hear the doctor say, ‘This guy needs to go on a ventilator.’”

With only one ventilator on hand, doctors wanted to transport Huerta to the hospital in Chandler.

Hearing this, Huerta decided to step in.

“Doc!” Huerta exclaimed. “No vent! Unhook me, give me what I need and send me home. Give me what I need, and I’ll do this at home.”

The doctor warned Huerta that if things went wrong, there might not be a way to recover. But he eventually relented and allowed Huerta to go home.

“And then I fought for my life,” Huerta said.

Even with medication and oxygen, Huerta’s condition kept getting worse. On Sunday, a week after his symptoms began, he asked his wife to leave him alone for a few minutes.

“I rolled off my bed and got on my knees and prayed, and said ‘Lord, I don’t have the strength to do this and if this is the way I’ve got to leave this earth, it bothers me because of everything I’ve been through in my life that this is the way I’m going to leave.’” Huerta said. “Give me the strength to fight this, because I can’t do it on my own.”

From that point, Huerta curled up in bed, numb from the knees down.

“It was a serious situation, I had cramps in both of my legs,” Huerta said. “I had to crawl to the bathroom. I couldn’t walk.

“I’m just thinking, ‘This can’t be it. Lord help me. Give me the strength.’”

That Sunday night was rough. He nodded off to sleep that night wondering if he’d wake up.

“And when I woke, the sun was peeking through the window at me,” Huerta said. “I said, ‘Lord, thank you.’ At that point, I felt like I’d made it.”

Huerta felt stronger but he was only cautiously optimistic. He knew he still had to get through Monday night because he seemed to struggle with Covid more at night than during the day.

“Tuesday morning rolls around and Beth tells me, ‘You slept the whole night through. How do you feel?’”

Huerta’s legs still didn’t work, but he felt stronger and he’d regained his appetite. He asked Beth to go to a local diner and get him two cheese enchiladas, rice and beans.

“I couldn’t really taste it too well, but I ate it and it stayed down and then I knew I was going to recover,” Huerta said. “I hadn’t eaten anything for a week. I’d lost 20 pounds in seven days.”

Thanks to Beth’s dedicated care and prayers from people in Maricopa and his softball buddies all over the country, Huerta was making headway. He eventually went back to work, but after a day or two, decided to go back home and finish recovering.

“Josh (Eads, the team captain) was getting ready to come talk to me and I got to him first and told him that I didn’t feel like I was up to full speed and that I might be a detriment to the team,” Huerta said.

Huerta was happy to be recovering, but he couldn’t quite get the “ick” out of his lungs. He decided he needed hard, physical labor to heal.

“I went in the backyard and dug ditches,” Huerta said. “I was going to work this thing out of my body.”

After a few days, his brand of therapy worked. He didn’t realize how well it worked until a year later when he was taking the CPAT once again.

“I felt like my lungs were the clearest they’d been in years,” Huerta said. “I could take a deeper breath than before. I finished at a Level 1 and the proctor told me that I was the first 63-year-old front-line fireman to ever do that well on the CPAT at his facility.”

This content was first published in cover story of the March edition of InMaricopa magazine.