MIAMI — For a Florida family, COVID-19 has struck hard after two doctors, a father and son, passed away from COVID-19 just over one month apart from each other.
Dr. Carlos Vallejo, 57, practiced internal medicine at his private practice in Miami Lakes; he passed away August 1st.
“My dad was an incredible guy,” said his son, Charles Vallejo Jr, 26, “He cared deeply about his patients and they saw him like family.”
Carlos Vallejo was hospitalized on June 27—the day his father, retired obstetrician Dr. Jorge Vallejo, 89, died from COVID-19.
Charles Vallejo, who is following in his father and grandfather's footsteps and is a medical resident, believes his father may have contracted the virus while treating his patients who were in rehabilitation centers and nursing homes. Some were COVID-19 positive.
“My dad had no underlying health conditions. He was very healthy. It’s a huge shock. Out of everybody, he is the last I would have thought would die from COVID,” said Charles.
He recounted how he and his family would plead with his dad to be careful around infected patients, maintain a safe distance and wear protective gear.
“He would tell us he would protect himself as much as he could, but would say, ‘I have to go in there and see my patients,’” said Charles Vallejo. “He would touch them and listen to their lungs.”
He said his grandfather, who was healthy and strong for his age, was cautious about the virus and stayed home most of the time during the pandemic.
“The week before he got COVID, I was walking my dog and I saw my grandfather cutting a tree,” said Charles Vallejo.
But his grandfather decided to join the family at a restaurant to celebrate his 89th birthday and he may have inadvertently contracted the virus from his son, Carlos, who began to show symptoms the following day.
"An angel on earth," says a patient
Florida has been grappling with one of the country's worse surges in coronavirus cases that started in late June and July. Miami-Dade County accounted for the highest amount of cases and Hialeah, a blue-collar city, was at the heart of the outbreak.
It was in these communities that the two doctors served, where many knew the family and recognized their last names.
Blanca Mourino, 68, was a patient of both Carlos and Jorge Vallejo since she moved to South Florida from New York in 1995 and has fond memories of both. He mother was a patient as well.
“He was an angel on earth and is now my angel in heaven,” said Mourino about Carlos Vallejo through tears.
She said that when she was sick, she would often describe her symptoms over the phone and Carlos Vallejo would call in the medication to the pharmacy, saving Mourino a trip to his office and money for the visit.
“I loved him so much. I cannot go back to the office knowing he won’t be there,” Mourino, a retired postal worker, said.
Carlos Vallejo is survived by his wife, a psychiatrist, and three children. He and his wife met in medical school and had been married for 33 years. He loved to travel the world and go diving and skiing during his time off from work.
From working-class patients to the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz
Jorge Vallejo was born and raised in Guantanamo, Cuba where he became an outspoken critic of the late Fidel Castro's revolution. By 1965, he fled the island with his wife and two sons, ages two and three, and settled in the largely Cuban-American city of Hialeah.
After passing his medical board exams he began to practice at Hialeah Hospital and delivered thousands of babies throughout his years in practice. In 1992, Jorge Vallejo delivered what was believed to be the smallest baby in the U.S., born at 22 weeks and weighing less than a pound.
“My grandfather would see people from all walks of life from recent immigrants to celebrities,” said Charles Vallejo, who added his grandfather once saw the legendary ‘Queen of Salsa,’ the late Celia Cruz.
He practiced medicine until he was 74, when his wife passed away. He lived alone, across the street from his son and family and remained active, even driving an hour and a half to the family’s summer home in the Florida Keys.
Charles Vallejo will now continue his father's and grandfather's tradition—entering a profession that is now losing some its members succumb to the deadly virus.
“One of the proudest moments of my life, and his life," said Charles Vallejo about his father Carlos, "was when I finally got my white coat from medical school. He was there and so was my grandfather."
“He was a great father," said Charles, "and a role model for me."