A Heart Full of Gratitude

At 77 years old, Sandusky area businessman, George Sortino, considers himself relatively healthy. He exercises regularly, and as president of the Sortino Management and Development Company, George is actively involved in the daily operations of numerous businesses in Sandusky and other cities throughout the country. Due to George’s active lifestyle, when he wasn’t feeling well in the early part of this past July, he knew something was wrong. 

“I was extremely short of breath, had the chills, a cough, fever, and was really tired,” remembers George.“I finally went to the Firelands Regional Medical Center emergency room around 10 pm on July 8. I was in rough shape.” 

Exhibiting many of the typical signs of COVID-19, the emergency room team tested George for the virus, and the result came back positive. He was admitted to the hospital that night. The following day his oxygen level continued to decline, and his breathing became more difficult. George was transferred to the hospital’s critical care unit, where he spent the next 12 days fighting for his life. 

“I was so sick that I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it. I developed pneumonia from the virus, and I’ve never felt so bad in my life. I was weak to the point that I couldn’t even lift a pen. What made it worse was I couldn’t have any visitors. It was awful,” says George. “But because of the doctors and staff at Firelands, I slowly got better. I truly believe that if it weren’t for Firelands, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

George received care from many Firelands staff members. His initial encounter was with Eric Robinson, DO in the emergency department, who was key in stabilizing George. Upon admission, his primary providers were pulmonologist Christopher Avendano, MDphysiatrist Joseph Riley, MD, and hospitalist Ruta Semaskiene, MD. In addition to supplemental oxygen, physicians treated George with Decadron, a steroid that has shown to have a significant effect on mortality in COVID-19 patients. He also received the antiviral drug remdesivir, which had been authorized for emergency use in patients with severe COVID-19. Remdesivir can slow the virus from spreading in the body and can shorten hospital stays. 

George also received convalescent plasma, the first COVID-19 patient at Firelands to do so. Rich in antibodies, convalescent plasma is derived from the blood donated by people who have recovered from the virus. 

After receiving the remdesivir and convalescent plasma, George began to improve physically and emotionally. “I knew I’d be okay when Dr. Riley came to see me to A Heart Full Of Gratitude 12 we ask you to consider making a gift to sustain the care you and your loved ones have come to expect from every physician and caregiver at Firelands. You have the ability to make an immediate and important impact on the lives of people you see daily, people of all ages, who utilize emergency services, women’s services, digestive health, mental health, primary care, physical therapy, and other services throughout the Firelands network. This year has made us all aware that we never know when we may need great healthcare, close to home! It’s easy to invest in the good health of our community. discuss my rehabilitation plan,” George reflected. “Even though I was feeling better, I was exceptionally weak. I had trouble keeping my balance when I walked and still had trouble breathing. I’ve been active all my life. I used to take breathing for granted. Not anymore. You realize how priceless it is when you’re struggling to breathe.” 

George was transferred to Firelands Regional Medical Center inpatient rehabilitation on July 21, where he stayed for nine days. As part of his rehabilitation, George’s occupational therapist required George to cook a meal for himself. When he asked his therapist what her favorite food was, she replied fettuccine Alfredo. “I told her I’d cook it for her and all the staff members in the unit. She thought I was cuckoo, but I did,” chuckled George. 

After his discharge from the inpatient rehabilitation unit, George continued his rehabilitation at the Lee C. Jewett Sports Medicine Center for another month as an outpatient. “I benefitted from the rehab so much that I still go to the Lee C Jewett Sports Medicine Center four days a week on my own,” he shared. “It has helped me become stronger and improved my breathing.” 

Today, George is back working full-time running his many businesses. “For me, retirement is next to death. I’ll never retire. My businesses are my hobby, not work. One of my doctors told me that if I were not as active as I am, I might have had a different outcome.” 

George reflected with a soft voice and a heart full of gratitude, “I feel blessed that I was able to go to Firelands when I got COVID-19. I received the best care from everyone there. It started from the minute I came into the ER. At Firelands, you are not just a number. You can feel the care and love in their hearts, from the housekeeping staff to the doctors. I can’t express enough how grateful I am to them all. I keep a photo of Dr. Avendano on my phone to remind me of how thankful I am that he saved my life. As far as I’m concerned, Firelands gives the word ‘hope’ a new meaning.”


You can INSPIRE HOPE today by giving one extra gift this holiday season to support the care team that is here to support you! Visit firelands.com/donate