Puna man recounts long, near-lethal battle against COVID-19

  • Frederick Tibayan is cheered on by medical staff after being released from Hilo Medical Center after 49 days battling COVID-19 in the hospital on Wednesday. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Frederick Tibayan looks up at Hilo Medical Center while speaking on his experience with COVID-19 and the 49 days he spent in the hospital on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Frederick Tibayan sends a shaka while being released from Hilo Medical Center after 49 days in the hospital due to COVID-19 complications on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Frederick Tibayan is cheered on by medical staff after being released from Hilo Medical Center after 49 days battling COVID-19 in the hospital on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

After 49 days in the hospital, Frederick Tibayan was released from Hilo Medical Center on Wednesday after a nearly fatal bout with COVID-19.

Tibayan, 45, considered getting one of the vaccines, but was hesitant after hearing about side effects from the shots. By the time he was ready to make a decision, he became ill.


“When I first got sick, it was just a fever, so I wasn’t too sure,” Tibayan said. “I ended up taking my oldest boy and myself to Urgent Care, and we both tested positive.

“I ended up infecting six of my seven family members.”

A few days into their quarantine, Tibayan couldn’t sleep and then started coughing up blood, which prompted him to go to the hospital.

“They said it was a good thing I came in, because my kids could have found me — I could have died at home,” Tibayan said. “I didn’t know I had pneumonia… and my oldest boy ended up here a few days after me.”

While Tibayan was in an Intensive Care Unit for 20 days, his son spent less than a week in the room next to him. Tibayan’s daughter nearly followed suit, but was able to recover after being treated at the emergency room.

His youngest children and his wife experienced far fewer symptoms and were able to recover while quarantining at home in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

While they recovered, Tibayan could not see his family until he was not contagious and out of the ICU.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to go stir-crazy, but I was lucky to have such great support since I could Facetime my family,” Tibayan said. “Nurses came visiting me and told me that first week was sketchy, but I barely can remember. I ended up making recordings of myself in case something happened.”

After staying in the hospital for nearly two months, Tibayan was quick to praise the staff in HMC’s COVID-19 unit for their work in keeping him alive and educating him.

“After going through this experience, hats off to the medical staff, from doctors to nurses, to clean up and kitchen crew. The advice I got from them, especially traveling nurses, they educated me a lot,” Tibayan said. “If I was educated like that from the beginning, I would have taken a vaccination much earlier. Now I have to wait four to six months.

“Don’t think like I did, like this is fake or propaganda. This is not a joke,” Tibayan continued. “I dropped 57 pounds, and I am getting sent home with oxygen. My lungs took a smash.”

While Tibayan thought it was his lungs suffering the most from COVID-19, respiratory specialists told him that his blood was not circulating to all of his organs when he was working toward recovery.

“They explained to me… that my blood was only serving my three major organs, but it shut down everything else,” Tibayan said. “And it was worse because I was big, I had asthma and hypertension — all that kind of stuff.”

While in the hospital, Tibayan inspired other family members to get vaccinated, so they could avoid the grueling experience he went through followed by a recovery that could take months.

“I’m reading about the Delta strain, and if people know me, they know I don’t blow smoke. This ain’t no joke,” Tibayan said. “After 49 days in the hospital, I still have a long time to recover. I hope I get to 100% again, but I have a feeling my lungs took a hard toll.”

After a long stay at HMC, Tibayan said he is looking forward to kissing his wife, seeing his kids, taking a deep breath and being at home.


“This thing was probably the darkest time of my life. I was literally on death’s door looking through the window,” he said. “Now I get to look forward to the little things, like going home and hearing my kids argue.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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