Luis Baez's Story

Luis Baez

“I get emotional every time I talk about Dr. Brodie, Dr. Agerstrand, all the nurses and the work they did to save me...if they’re on your case, everything is going to be fine.”

A Wake-Up Call

Brooklyn born and raised, Luis Baez prefers to use his stage name, Louie Bee. In April of 2013, Luis, then 28, hadn’t been feeling well for several days. He was sure he had the flu or something like it, but he was even more convinced he couldn’t afford to take off from his night job as a security guard. He needed to support himself so he could write material for his comedy act by day and go, whenever possible, to open mic clubs on free nights. “I was going to work and just trying to be tough,” Luis says. “I didn’t want to take any sick days or lose a lot of money.”

Finally, during one late night shift, still feeling sick, Luis began coughing. It wouldn’t stop. “Luckily,” he says, “I was working with a partner. I was coughing pretty hard. My partner told me to go downstairs and lie down for a while. He said he would wake me up soon.” By the time Luis arrived in the security guards’ room downstairs his cough had become a desperate racking. “I could barely breathe.” He told a supervisor he needed to go to the hospital, to please call an ambulance.

From Columbus Circle, the ambulance shuttled Luis to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. “I was told I had pneumonia,” recalls Luis, who also has type 2 diabetes. “They put me on oxygen, but for some reason my blood oxygen was not normal. It kept going down.” Luis’ blood oxygen was falling dangerously, and both of his lungs were shutting down. After Luis’ parents were called, he lost consciousness. “I had both a viral and bacterial infection. My mom was praying hard, but I didn’t know any of this.”

One of the doctors at St. Luke’s, whose name Luis doesn’t know but wishes he did, told his parents he was aware of a then experimental program at NewYork-Presbyterian. Luis was rushed to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia’s Medical ICU and placed in the care of Daniel Brodie, MD, and Cara L. Agerstrand, MD, and their team.

Luis was immediately connected to ECMO, an innovative technology found in few hospitals, which provides support for the lungs and the heart when one or both are unable to carry out the exchange of gases necessary to sustain life. Luis was put into a medically induced coma so that ECMO could allow his lungs to heal. Luis’ mom told him later that as soon as they attached him to ECMO his oxygen levels almost immediately started to rise.

“When I came to,” Luis remembers, “the nurse asked me where I was. I said I was in St. Luke’s. She said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re in NewYork-Presbyterian.’ That’s when I started freaking out a little. I didn’t know they had moved me. I didn’t know what the date was. The funny thing is I thought I was in a different country. They told me I had been out cold for about a week. My mother said that wasn’t the worst of it. I was on my deathbed.”

A parade of worried relatives — parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, cousins — as well as family friends of Luis’ parents and members of his mother’s Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses — kept a vigil while Luis lay so sick, and, as soon as he was conscious and safe, became angry at him for not taking care of himself. “They all yelled ‘you better start taking care of yourself because we’re not going to bury you,’” Luis says. “Nothing tells you how loved you are and that people care for you as when you’re getting yelled at for not taking care of yourself after you almost died.”

Three years later, Luis Baez is back to being Louie Bee, with some differences. He says he refrains from cake. (He lost 20 pounds during his stay in the ICU.) But it’s more. “I’m pursuing something that makes me happy and feeds my soul — like making people laugh. It was a spiritual reboot…a wake-up call to make me focus on what matters. I get emotional every time I talk about Dr. Brodie, Dr. Agerstrand, all the nurses and the work they did to save me...if they’re on your case, everything is going to be fine.”