Updated December 13, 2020 - 1:42 pm
Las Vegas Valley nurses are mourning the loss of one of their own after a 59-year-old nurse practitioner died from COVID-19.
Freddy Espinosa died early Thursday after nearly a month battling coronavirus. Espinosa had worked at several hospitals in the Las Vegas Valley, including St. Rose Dominican Hospital, San Martin campus, and MountainView Hospital, and most recently as a nurse practitioner in the intensive care unit at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus.
“He had a passion to help people, and he died doing what he most loved,” said Espinosa’s wife, Lydia, 67. “He died in action.”
The Espinosas were married 35 years. Freddy Espinosa helped raise Lydia’s three children, Ray, 49, Cindy, 48, and Rudy Sandoval, 47, as well their own child, Daniel Espinosa, 32. The couple also had nine grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and one great-grandchild on the way.
The couple married after only three months together, when Lydia Espinosa said she was ready to move out of her mother’s house and 23-year-old Freddy said he wanted to be with her forever.
“Nobody thought we were going to last because we had just met each other,” she said. “I was very happy with him. He loved me. He gave me everything I want if we could afford it. He always tried to make me happy.”
Espinosa said her husband’s symptoms came quickly and within four days of testing positive. Their son took him to St. Rose because he couldn’t breathe. He spent three weeks hospitalized between St. Rose and Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where he died. During a vigil Thursday night, several of her husband’s colleagues approached her to say what a shining light her husband was to them.
“He always was with a smile and then they said his smile was contagious,” Lydia Espinosa said.
A GoFundMe started Nov. 13 to help pay for hospital bills was used to give friends and co-workers updates on Freddy Espinosa’s condition, as his breathing improved and four days later when he entered a coma.
The fundraiser had garnered more than $24,000 by Sunday.
Thursday’s vigil was hosted by co-worker and registered nurse Brittney Hilton, 24, who met Freddy Espinosa about a year ago when she started working at St. Rose. He was always the calm in a storm, she said.
“He just lived and dedicated his life to his work and to other people,” she said. “He always put everyone else before himself. He never let the stress affect how he treated everyone.”
Fellow nurse Zachary Pritchett, 33, met Espinosa when he started at the hospital as a travel nurse just after Espinosa started at the hospital.
“I literally never saw him raise his voice or get bent out of shape,” Pritchett said. “Even when he was sick and one of our other nurse practitioners was taking care of him, they did a procedure that caused him pain and when she left the room, he told his nurse, ‘I’m so lucky to have her as a friend.’”
Pritchett said COVID-19 has shown him some of the most sick patients he’s ever seen and although nurses are tired, he hopes his co-workers can remember Espinosa’s smiling face.
“We have become such a politically charged country where everything needs to be a debate. Freddy was just about kindness and loving and passion,” Pritchett said. “Freddy would want us to love one another.”
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Geo Hughes called Espinosa a good human who would always shoulder additional tasks with a happy-go-lucky attitude.
“He was approachable,” she said. “No matter the situation or the number of patients. It didn’t matter his patient load, including these times with COVID where they’re double or triple; if I asked him to update a patient, he’d do it, no problem.”
Paige Lewless, 28, a nurse practitioner in the intermediate care unit, said she has been struggling with Espinosa’s death because she tested positive for COVID a week after Espinosa did and she has been out of work for a month because of it. Lewless said Espinosa encouraged her to return to school, as he had, to become a nurse practitioner.
“He had an aura around him. He oozed kindness,” she said. “Freddy would have wanted us to keep embracing each other not just as co-workers but as friends and family.”
Christian Perrodin, 42, an intensive care unit nurse, said that despite the constant emergencies that happen in an ICU, Espinosa stayed calm and smiling.
“He never had a mean thing to say about anyone,” he said. “We were a very cohesive, functioning team, like cogs in a clock, and he was very well-oiled and fine-tuned.”
Perrodin said that the hospital recently faced staffing problems when more than 15 nurses were exposed and that some are still home from work a month later. He said the hospital calls him twice a day during his days off to ask if he’s available to work and he often takes the extra shifts.
“We all know this is real, but the repercussions haven’t touched people,” he said. “The fact that we lost this great person, it’s going to hurt the valley more than we know.”
The family plans a public viewing from 10 a.m. to noon Friday at Palm Mortuary, 1600 S. Jones Blvd.