COVID-19: the doctor who failed to save his father with early treatment
"When I lost my father, I made a vow. I was going to help everyone I could," he said.
Dr. Raphael Furtado, 46, son of a physician, Dr. Antonio, and a psychologist, Jacyrema, was born and raised in Goiânia. Years later, following in his father's footsteps, he graduated in medicine in the interior of São Paulo, where he specialized as an anesthesiologist. Shortly after completing his studies, just over 20 years ago, he decided to move to Natal, a beautiful coastal city in Northeast Brazil, where he began working at a local hospital.
His routine was quite common, going from work to home and from home to work. He married Andreia and they had a son named Antonio, born in 2015. Traveling around the region and going to the beach with his family was their routine. Raphael's hobby was fishing and he led a peaceful lifestyle. "My wife was a brilliant professional and gave up her career to take care of our boy," he said.
The peaceful life changed when the frightening COVID-19 pandemic began to spread and stop the world in early 2020. Faced with the challenge, Raphael began studying tirelessly to find the best solutions for the disease. By June, he had accumulated about 600 hours of study. His goal was to diagnose and treat his patients.
In the first months of the pandemic, he treated some patients, mostly friends and family. "Despite many people doubting it, those who believed were treated," he said. His studies were even based on Preprint articles, following the work of people like Dr. Zelenko from New York, Dr. Didier Raoult from France, who used hydroxychloroquine as a basis, as well as a care protocol based on ivermectin, created by Peruvian doctor Dr. Gustavo Aguirre Chang.
When Raphael had accumulated patients who were rapidly recovering, his life suffered a major setback. He received news that his father, Dr. Antonio, a 73-year-old neurologist, was hospitalized. His father had contracted COVID-19 in September 2020 and did not receive early treatment for the disease. Dr. Antonio had comorbidities such as atrial fibrillation and obesity, and he was symptomatic at home for 12 days. He followed the protocol of going to the hospital when he had difficulty breathing, but when he sought help, he already had 75% lung damage.
Upon hearing the news, Raphael took a plane to Goiânia, his hometown in central-west Brazil. When he arrived, his father was already intubated. Raphael begged for two days to include ivermectin in the treatment. "Do it for a son. So that a son can sleep at night," he said. After the medication was included, his father's lung condition improved significantly by the ventilator parameters within four days.
Raphael stayed in Goiânia for a month while his father was hospitalized. But when they scheduled the removal of the mechanical ventilation, Dr. Antonio did not wake up. He had an extensive stroke. "It was tough. I lost my father," Raphael said. "After the stroke, I already knew it would be very difficult."
"He believed in that nonsense study from Lancet, the one from the Surgisphere scandal. As a heart patient, he was terrified of HCQ." On television, they repeatedly said that the drugs were not proven. Even with his son saying he was having success, Dr. Antonio did not believe it.
"He must have thought his son was delirious," he laments. "I feel guilty for not sharing studies with him. I thought my word would be enough."
During his father's quick funeral, restricted by COVID rules, Raphael decided to get involved. "When I lost my father, I made a vow. I would help everyone I could. I felt like a soldier in a war and fought with the best weapons I knew," he said.
To fulfill what he had set out to do, Dr. Raphael had to learn how to do telemedicine, which he was against before the pandemic. "More important than prescribing is to make progress. My goal was to make patients asymptomatic as quickly as possible and to avoid hospitalizations, complications, and deaths," he explained.
With the idea of treating as many people as he could, he began publicly announcing that the disease was easily treatable, but he was criticized for it. "I was very naive and thought the whole planet would be happy to know there was a treatment for the disease," he said. "One time I was hurt when a guy said I was a charlatan. Just look at the definition in the dictionary. I threatened to sue for slander and defamation. He was the owner of a bookstore in Rio de Janeiro," he recounted.
The anti-treatment activism, due to the media's insistence on repeating that the treatments were proven to be ineffective, even shook his old friendships. "Several childhood and teenage friends ridiculed me, and I just wanted to help with information that I think is valuable, but for many, it was as if I were an alien speaking."
Today, Dr. Raphael has treated 170 COVID-19 patients, with no deaths and only a single hospitalization that did not require intubation. It was the case of an elderly man from Goiânia, who had diabetes and only one kidney, whom he treated through video consultations on WhatsApp. "When his oxygen saturation started dropping to 90%, I instructed his family to take him to the emergency room to be examined. I was 3000 km away. That's the case that made me think the most about what I could have done better," he recalled.
"I called the family two or three times a day. After 11 days, he was discharged without sequelae. He wasn't intubated, but he needed oxygen support via a nasal cannula. He couldn't tolerate masks with positive pressure. That case really touched me," said the doctor, who, like all those treating COVID-19, remembers the few who worsened. "The other day the patient ran into a close friend of mine and said, 'Raphael saved my life,'" he reported.
"Did I really save him? I'm not completely sure, but his gratitude means a lot to me. Really," the doctor questioned.
Raphael treated patients from all social classes. He even provided medication to some of them. Many, among the more affluent, insisted on paying his fees, which he respectfully declined.
Among the curious cases he volunteered to treat was that of an International Chess Master residing in Kolkata, India. The chess player asked for help on Twitter. To treat him, Dr. Raphael had to put together a protocol of over-the-counter medicines sold there: he used quercetin, ivermectin, vitamins, and zinc.
While he tried to help more people, the offenses were constant. One day, during a fishing trip, a fellow doctor disqualified him. He claimed that all medications were placebos. Losing patience, Dr Raphael, raising his voice, asked, "How did I take care of almost 100 people and no one died?".
According to the Our World in Data website, mortality in Brazil during the entire pandemic was 1.89%, meaning one death for every 53 infected. Following the same proportion of fatality, without treatment, Dr Raphael would have about 3 deaths among his patients. But he had zero deaths.
Moved, after telling all the stories of offenses he received while dedicating himself, I asked if anyone called him a hero. Dr Raphael couldn't remember. But he told me that Antonio, his 7-year-old son, is proud of his profession and calls him "Doctor dad".
"My life would make an uninteresting book for many people," he concluded, apologizing for ending the interview. He would have to wake up very early the next day for a surgery marathon in SUS, the public healthcare system.
I am starting a series of stories about doctors who treated COVID-19 throughout the pandemic and had very few deaths among their patients.