[spanish wedding songs]COVID nearly killed this uninsured nurse. A year later, he’s still recovering.
2021-08-08 00:58:49

  “It’s good to be home,” he replied. “Thank you so much.”

  It had been three months since Justin, 40, had last felt the sun on his face, since he had last done anything outside the walls of a hospital. He and his family had come down with COVID-19 — his wife, Anayuri; their infant daughter, Charlotte; and Abby, his teenage daughter from his first marriage.

  He suspected he had carried the virus to his home on the Northeast Side from the pediatric urgent care where he worked as a nurse practitioner.

  He had made it through the weeks on a ventilator, the two-month coma, the vivid hallucinations, the medication withdrawals, the worries over what all this might cost.

  On ExpressNews.com: 18 hours inside a COVID-19 ICU

  Justin Vine is wheeled to his car as his wife picks him up from Northeast Baptist Hospital on Oct. 2, 2020, after three months of treatment for COVID-19.

  Justin Vine is wheeled to his car as his wife picks him up from Northeast Baptist Hospital on Oct. 2, 2020, after three months of treatment for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Justin was uninsured and had delayed going to the hospital for as long as he could. The cost of his medical care surpassed $1 million, then approached $2 million.

  He suffered nerve damage; and his muscles atrophied during months of lying immobile, to the point where his iPhone felt heavy. He could not afford to transfer to a long-term care facility, as his doctor at Northeast Baptist Hospital recommended, so he relied on the generosity of friends to raise $21,000 for two weeks of inpatient rehabilitation. The hospital wanted the money upfront.

  He was still sedated for his one-year wedding anniversary, and he had missed important milestones for Charlotte. Abby had flown to Connecticut to live with her mother and sister, Naomi, as the family braced for the possibility that he wouldn’t survive.

  Now he pushed his walker toward Charlotte, who was almost 9 months old, pausing several feet from where her stroller was parked on the driveway. The baby looked up at her father. He had gone to the hospital in June and returned in October — a third of her short life.

  “She’s like, ‘Who’s that guy? I don’t remember him,’” Justin said.

  Melinda Casta?o carries Justin Vine's daughter, Charlotte, to him as he settles in at home after his discharge from a three-month hospital stay for COVID-19.

  Melinda Casta?o carries Justin Vine’s daughter, Charlotte, to him as he settles in at home after his discharge from a three-month hospital stay for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Charlotte’s face crumpled. She began to wail.

  Inside the house, Justin lowered himself onto a leather recliner. He held his daughter briefly before Anayuri hoisted the protesting baby in her arms.

  “?Está tu papá?” Anayuri murmured.

  On ExpressNews.com: ‘You’re not supposed to be here’ — At 34, he needed new lungs after COVID wreaked havoc

  They waited for some sign of recognition.

  “It’s so good to see you,” Justin told Charlotte, pronouncing her name in a singsong voice. “I know you don’t remember me now.”

  Charlotte Vine watches her father, Justin Vine, from the arms of her aunt, as he waits to have a home cooked meal of flautas upon his arrival home from his three-month hospitalization for COVID-19.

  Charlotte Vine watches her father, Justin Vine, from the arms of her aunt, as he waits to have a home cooked meal of flautas upon his arrival home from his three-month hospitalization for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Anayuri tried to deposit the baby back on his lap, but she clung to her mother. She stood Charlotte up on the armrest. Justin caressed her socked feet.

  “You like it on your terms. That’s what it is, huh?” he said, observing her tolerance of the arrangement. “Don’t force nothing.”

  Justin had been prepared for this. After all this time, how could she possibly remember him?

  It still stung.

  He had beaten COVID-19, just barely. The work of re-establishing a relationship with his daughter — and rebuilding his life — was still ahead of him.

  For nearly a year, the Express-News followed Justin’s illness and recovery, which mirrored the trajectory of the pandemic in the United States. His story illuminates what it takes to come back from the disease that stopped the country, and world, in its tracks.

  Justin Vine spent 95 days in the hospital, including more than 50 on a ventilator.

  Justin Vine spent 95 days in the hospital, including more than 50 on a ventilator.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographer

  Since the beginning of August, when the federal government began receiving consistent reports on COVID-19 hospitalizations, the pandemic has sent 2.3 million Americans to the hospital. Those who survived were often burdened by long-term health problems, including damage to the lungs and other organs, weakness and fatigue, post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues.

  For Justin, the greatest lasting effect of COVID-19 was on his ability to walk. In addition to muscle loss, his right foot and two fingers on his left hand were numb and paralyzed. He believed they were an unintended complication from the bed restraints that prevented him from dislodging his breathing tube. To stabilize his foot, he had been fitted for a brace that ran up the length of his shin.

  With Anayuri’s assistance, he pulled on the brace and made his way to the living room. He sat on the couch beside Charlotte, whose tears during his homecoming the previous day had been overridden by curiosity. She crawled toward her father, grabbing at his Spider-Man face mask.

  Charlotte Vine pulls on the mask worn by her father, Justin Vine, before heading outside for a welcome home drive-by parade for him after he returned from a three-month hospital stay for COVID-19.

  Charlotte Vine pulls on the mask worn by her father, Justin Vine, before heading outside for a welcome home drive-by parade for him after he returned from a three-month hospital stay for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  “You pulled it off!” Justin said, beaming. “You are so good at grabbing things.”

  “What time is it?” he asked Anayuri.

  “12:48. We should go outside.”

  On ExpressNews.com: Will COVID-19 have long-term effects on the brain? San Antonio researchers are trying to find out.

  In the driveway, a tan folding chair was waiting for Justin in the shade of a pair of oak trees. A speaker blared salsa music, a nod to the couple’s shared love of Latin dancing — they had first met at a bachata lesson. In the yard, cardboard letters spelled out “WELCOME HOME.”

  A few minutes later, the cars began arriving.

  Justin Vine sits at the end of his driveway waving to friends in their cars during a welcome home drive-by parade on Oct. 3, 2020, following a three-month hospitalization for COVID-19. At left, his wife, Anayuri Vine, entertains their daughter, Charlotte, with balloons.

  Justin Vine sits at the end of his driveway waving to friends in their cars during a welcome home drive-by parade on Oct. 3, 2020, following a three-month hospitalization for COVID-19. At left, his wife, Anayuri Vine, entertains their daughter, Charlotte, with balloons.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  There were Justin’s colleagues from the children’s urgent care clinic where he worked. There were his friends from his church and San Antonio’s salsa dancing circuit. Some had decorated their cars with balloons or hoisted handmade signs out their windows. Others honked their horns as they shouted out well-wishes.

  “It’s a miracle. Oh my God, I’m so happy. It’s a blessing,” one woman called out.

  “God is good,” Justin said.

  “You lost so much weight,” another said.

  “The COVID diet — don’t recommend it, though.”

  Justin Vine holds his daughter, Charlotte, as he sits at the end of his driveway during a welcome home drive-by parade following his three-month hospitalization for COVID-19.

  Justin Vine holds his daughter, Charlotte, as he sits at the end of his driveway during a welcome home drive-by parade following his three-month hospitalization for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  As each car pulled through the cul-de-sac, Melinda Casta?o, one of Justin’s closest friends, handed out buttons with pictures of the Vines. Each was emblazoned with #HelpNurseJustin, the hashtag his friends had used to promote his GoFundMe.

  The afternoon wore on, and the stream of cars slowed to a trickle. Sweat beaded on Justin’s forehead. He motioned to Melinda to open a bottle of Gatorade for him.

  “My hands are still a little weak.”

  Steve, another friend from salsa dancing, rolled up to the curb.

  “Trying my best not to lose my sanity, man,” he said when Justin asked how he was. He added that it seemed like a long time since they’d seen each other.

  Days after his hospital release, Justin Vine walks with his wife, Anayuri Vine, as part of his rehabilitation.

  Days after his hospital release, Justin Vine walks with his wife, Anayuri Vine, as part of his rehabilitation.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Justin told him he had spent 95 days in the hospital, including more than 50 on a ventilator.

  On ExpressNews.com: ‘What if we pull the plug too early?’: In the age of COVID-19, decisions about death are fraught.

  He pointed to his foot. “This brace helps a lot. It would drag if I didn’t have it.”

  Charlotte had woken from her nap as they talked, and Anayuri placed her into her father’s lap. The baby immediately reached for his mask again. Justin kissed her on the cheek, whispering “I missed you” in her ear.

  Justin’s thoughts strayed to someone who had driven by earlier, a woman from church whose 55-year-old husband had contracted the virus around the same time he had. Like Justin, the man had been admitted to an intensive care unit and intubated as his lungs began to fail.

  Justin pulled through. The other man didn’t.

  With guidance from his wife, Anayuri Vine, Justin Vine does physical therapy exercises at their home in San Antonio on Oct. 8, 2020. The hospital provided instructions for exercises he could do on his own.

  With guidance from his wife, Anayuri Vine, Justin Vine does physical therapy exercises at their home in San Antonio on Oct. 8, 2020. The hospital provided instructions for exercises he could do on his own.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Justin took the pink block of foam and tried to grasp it with his left hand. His index finger remained straight, refusing to curl down and grip the object with the rest of his hand. With his other hand, he forced the finger down.

  Even after receiving all the physical therapy he could afford at the hospital, his body was still recuperating from the ravaging effects of COVID-19.

  Justin had been discussing them with another COVID-19 patient from New York, someone a friend had connected him with. The other man had lost, then regained, feeling in his fingers after they became gangrenous. As they talked, Justin grew hopeful that his fingers and foot would recover some function in time.

  It was a relief to talk with someone who understood, in a way no one else could.

  Still, it was frustrating to encounter his body’s new limitations.

  Showering had become his greatest daily challenge. His walker was too wide for the narrow space between the bed and dresser, so he would take steps there on his own, ready to grip onto the furniture if he lost his balance. By 8 p.m., he was ready for bed.

  Anayuri Vine, right, watches as her husband, Justin Vine, does physical therapy exercises at their home in San Antonio on Nov. 25, 2020.

  Anayuri Vine, right, watches as her husband, Justin Vine, does physical therapy exercises at their home in San Antonio on Nov. 25, 2020.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Most days, he was reluctant to do his rehabilitation exercises, but Anayuri kept him on a schedule. She took charge of his at-home physical therapy, reading the instructions for each exercise.

  “So, this one—” she began.

  “Break time,” Justin said, leaning back into the couch.

  On ExpressNews.com: Bexar County ME: The coronavirus pandemic could cause ‘domino effect’ of indirect deaths

  On her phone, Anayuri set a timer for a one-minute break between exercises. Justin joked that she was stricter than the professional physical therapists — at least at the hospital, they would ask when he was ready.

  The couple had been married for slightly more than a year, but it felt like Justin’s illness had aged their relationship a decade. He had expected a backlog of bills and other matters in need of attention when he came home. But Anayuri had taken care of everything, down to resolving an issue with his nursing license.

  Anayuri Vine dances with her husband, Justin Vine, after his physical therapy exercises at their home in San Antonio on Nov. 25, 2020. They had tried dancing earlier in the week for the first time since his hospitalization for COVID-19.

  Anayuri Vine dances with her husband, Justin Vine, after his physical therapy exercises at their home in San Antonio on Nov. 25, 2020. They had tried dancing earlier in the week for the first time since his hospitalization for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  While they waited for the timer to expire, Anayuri previewed the next exercise, ankle movements that Justin remembered from the hospital. He demonstrated them for her.

  “Well, wait, wait,” she said, grinning. “Your minute’s not over. Ten seconds left.”

  While he was in the hospital, Anayuri had texted him daily, even during his long stretch of unconsciousness. When he had finally gotten back into his phone, he found a flood of messages from her, a mix of news, encouragement and updates on Charlotte.

  “Today was a very good day. I heard you were breathing on your own for a couple hours… I can’t wait to see you but hey! You have to be very patient because you’re going to have a long recovery.”

  “Abby is going to Connecticut. Her mom bought the flight. I hope you wake up soon so we can all be together again.”

  “I found out another guy from church, his name is Anthony, got into the ICU on the same floor as you, he is 6 rooms apart from you. I have been praying for both (of you), his wife told me he was praying so hard for you before getting sick.”

  “Babie you need to hurry up and wake up soon, our first wedding anniversary is around the corner! I would love to speak with you that day.”

  On ExpressNews.com: A last resort against COVID-19: A ventilator wasn’t enough for this 30-year-old patient, so S.A. doctors improvised

  Anayuri sent photos of Charlotte when she turned 6 months old, then 7 months; sitting in her high chair; wearing a pink onesie in her crib; smiling as she posed for a selfie with her mother.

  With a balloon from her father Justin Vine's welcome home parade a few days earlier still attached, Charlotte moves across the room in a walker as her mother, Anayuri Vine, and father watch at their home in San Antonio on Oct. 8, 2020.

  With a balloon from her father Justin Vine’s welcome home parade a few days earlier still attached, Charlotte moves across the room in a walker as her mother, Anayuri Vine, and father watch at their home in San Antonio on Oct. 8, 2020.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  In the week since he had come home, Justin had started all over with Charlotte. When he would hold her, she would squirm and try to escape. Eventually, she would grow too tired to fight.

  Anayuri put the baby on Justin’s chest. Charlotte rolled onto her stomach to face him. He kissed her forehead.

  “It’s me,” he said. “It’s not so scary, huh?”

  Walking was also a work in progress. Justin had hardly been outside. But now he grasped hold of a new walker, following Anayuri out the door as she walked backward in front of him.

  He rolled down the driveway and out into the street, taking a lap around the cul-de-sac.

  Less than 10 minutes later, he collapsed onto the couch.

  Anayuri Vine kisses her husband, Justin Vine, goodbye as she drops him off at work for the first time since he fell ill with COVID-19.

  Anayuri Vine kisses her husband, Justin Vine, goodbye as she drops him off at work for the first time since he fell ill with COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  “I haven’t forgotten about this thing,” Justin said as he clocked in early on the morning of Jan. 5.

  Steadying himself with a blue cane, he walked to the counter in the back area of Aguirre Pediatrics, a West Side clinic, where the nurses worked on their computers in between seeing patients. He asked a co-worker to remind him where everyone else typically worked.

  “Getting the lay of the land again,” he said. “It’s been awhile.”

  Over the past three months, he had been consulting with patients virtually as he worked his way up from walker to cane to navigating the house largely on his own.

  Justin Vine, a pediatric nurse practitioner, returns to work at Aguirre Pediatrics in San Antonio on Jan. 5, 2021. It was his first time seeing patients in person since he was hospitalized for COVID-19.

  Justin Vine, a pediatric nurse practitioner, returns to work at Aguirre Pediatrics in San Antonio on Jan. 5, 2021. It was his first time seeing patients in person since he was hospitalized for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  His massive hospital bill was still a lingering worry. He had been expecting some kind of notification that his treatment would be covered under the federal government’s COVID-19 relief package, but he had received only minor bills for his braces and radiology services. He told himself no news was good news.

  He had been hoping to see his brother for Thanksgiving and host Abby and Naomi for Christmas, but coronavirus transmission had spiked nationwide over the holiday months. San Antonio was still averaging more than 1,400 new infections a day.

  On ExpressNews.com: Hospitals full. Thousands infected with coronavirus each week. San Antonio pays the price for failing to flatten the curve.

  Justin was terrified of becoming reinfected. But he hadn’t rushed his recovery. It was time.

  Justin Vine, a pediatric nurse practitioner, examines Ciara Gonzalez, 14, as he sees patients in person for the first time since he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in June 2020. Vine had been virtually seeing patients for three months from his home before returning to work in person on Jan. 5, 2021.

  Justin Vine, a pediatric nurse practitioner, examines Ciara Gonzalez, 14, as he sees patients in person for the first time since he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in June 2020. Vine had been virtually seeing patients for three months from his home before returning to work in person on Jan. 5, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  As Justin settled in at his workstation, his Thermos toppled to the floor. He carefully picked it up. As he turned around, his backpack knocked a box of tissues off the counter.

  “They’re OK there,” he murmured. He worried that if he bent over again, he would fall, as he had a month earlier.

  His first patient was one of his regulars — Ciara Gonzalez, a 14-year-old girl who wore a Mickey Mouse face mask. She gave Justin a thumbs up.

  “Well, you guys are my first one,” he told her parents. “I’m glad to see you.”

  “We are, too,” her father said. “We hope you continue to recover.”

  Justin Vine talks with Oralia Aguirre as he prepares to examine her adopted 5-week-old twins on his first day seeing patients in person since his battle with COVID-19 in the summer of 2020. Vine had been seeing patients virtually for three months from home before returning to work in person at Aguirre Pediatrics in San Antonio on Jan. 5, 2021.

  Justin Vine talks with Oralia Aguirre as he prepares to examine her adopted 5-week-old twins on his first day seeing patients in person since his battle with COVID-19 in the summer of 2020. Vine had been seeing patients virtually for three months from home before returning to work in person at Aguirre Pediatrics in San Antonio on Jan. 5, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  In the next room, Omar Hernandez, 15, waited as Justin scrubbed his hands beneath a poster urging coronavirus precautions. Justin listened to his lungs and peered into his nose.

  Sweat glistened on Justin’s forehead. He had been standing for more than an hour.

  The boy’s mother began talking in Spanish.

  “She’s asking how you’ve been,” Omar translated.

  “Oh, thank you. I’m doing good.”

  “She said, ‘Thank God.’ And that God stays with you.”

  Justin Vine worships with friends during an Easter Sunday service at Grace Avenue Church.

  Justin Vine worships with friends during an Easter Sunday service at Grace Avenue Church.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  “You’re walking? It’s amazing.”

  It was mid-April, and Mary Elkins had just gotten off her nursing shift at the Northeast Baptist ICU where she had cared for Justin night after night. She had never seen him outside of a hospital bed, let alone on his feet.

  They embraced.

  “This is Ms. Charlotte,” Justin said as they walked into the restaurant with Anayuri and Melinda to grab breakfast. “You’ve seen pictures of her.”

  Justin Vine embraces his critical care nurse, Mary Elkins, as they reunite at Magnolia Pancake Haus in San Antonio on Saturday, April 17, 2021. The two forged a friendship and promised to meet outside the hospital before she returned home to North Carolina after nearly a year of treating COVID-19 patients in San Antonio. At right is Justin's wife, Anayuri Vine, who talked to Mary every day when he was in the hospital, and daughter, Charlotte.

  Justin Vine embraces his critical care nurse, Mary Elkins, as they reunite at Magnolia Pancake Haus in San Antonio on Saturday, April 17, 2021. The two forged a friendship and promised to meet outside the hospital before she returned home to North Carolina after nearly a year of treating COVID-19 patients in San Antonio. At right is Justin’s wife, Anayuri Vine, who talked to Mary every day when he was in the hospital, and daughter, Charlotte.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Justin had been eager to connect on Facebook with Mary, who was part of the reason he was still alive. He knew that, like him, she cared deeply about her patients, as evidenced by an emotional post she had written in December, during San Antonio’s second surge.

  “Our shifts are filled with desperately fighting to save AT LEAST ONE of the patients in our unit, but lately it seems that is too much to ask for.”

  She had come to San Antonio in July 2020 on a traveling nurse’s contract, and her family in North Carolina was begging for her to come home for Christmas. “I cannot leave knowing nurses are already tripled with patients, and patients are dying alone.”

  On ExpressNews.com: Burnout. Trauma. Disillusionment: The toll of COVID-19 on San Antonio hospital workers

  Justin Vine laughs over breakfast with one of his critical care nurses, Mary Elkins, who sits across from him as they reunite at Magnolia Pancake Haus in San Antonio on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Anayuri Vine, with their daughter, Charlotte, and their friend Melinda Casta?o, right, talked daily with Mary about Justin's condition when he was not allowed to have visitors.

  Justin Vine laughs over breakfast with one of his critical care nurses, Mary Elkins, who sits across from him as they reunite at Magnolia Pancake Haus in San Antonio on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Anayuri Vine, with their daughter, Charlotte, and their friend Melinda Casta?o, right, talked daily with Mary about Justin’s condition when he was not allowed to have visitors.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Now, just a few out-of-state nurses like her remained at the hospital, Mary said. The number of coronavirus patients had plummeted. She had been away from home for nearly a year. Still, she was reluctant to leave.

  “Do you still have COVID patients?” Melinda asked.

  “We have four COVID patients now,” Mary said. “Three weeks ago, we were still full.”

  In her highchair, Charlotte reached for Anayuri’s surgical mask. She was 15 months old now, Justin told Mary.

  “Putting her picture in his room was such a good idea, because it made him a person,” Mary said. “Not just a patient in a bed.”

  Justin Vine hugs his critical care nurse, Mary Elkins, goodbye after they reunited on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Elkins came to San Antonio from North Carolina in July 2020 to help treat COVID-19 patients and was preparing to return home to her family. The two promised to meet before she left Texas. At left, Vine's friend, Melinda Casta?o, holds Justin's daughter, Charlotte.

  Justin Vine hugs his critical care nurse, Mary Elkins, goodbye after they reunited on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Elkins came to San Antonio from North Carolina in July 2020 to help treat COVID-19 patients and was preparing to return home to her family. The two promised to meet before she left Texas. At left, Vine’s friend, Melinda Casta?o, holds Justin’s daughter, Charlotte.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  On his phone, Justin located a video he had accidentally taken of himself while he was still disoriented from the sedation. The group joked about the unintelligible calls he made to friends and family, not knowing what was real or a hallucination.

  “You haven’t seen that many people who recovered from that kind of thing?” he asked.

  “No, not many,” Mary said, looking at Anayuri. “There were very few patients that were as long as him.”

  She told them about a patient she had treated for three weeks. Before he died, his wife had laid her head on his chest, playing songs for him on her phone all night.

  “It was heartbreaking,” Mary said, her voice choked with tears. “That’s why I had to see you doing well.”

  Justin Vine walks to his car on moving day from a rental house in San Antonio to his new home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.

  Justin Vine walks to his car on moving day from a rental house in San Antonio to his new home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographer

  Music pulsed from the speakers as couples spun across the dance floor, their movements reflected in the wall-to-wall mirrors.

  At a table along the side of the room, Anayuri grabbed a pair of beers from a cooler. She wore a cheetah print skirt and lipstick under her mask, Justin a button-down shirt and black slacks. After the lesson was over, the floor would open up for dancing the rest of the night.

  A week after seeing Mary, they had decided to go on their first date in more than a year. UNA Mas Bachata, normally held every month, was being hosted for the first time since the start of the pandemic at Ballroom Dance Annex.

  A year. Somehow, nearly a year had already passed since COVID-19 had upended Justin’s life.

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  Justin Vine gets his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Alamodome on Jan. 13, 2021. His wife, Anayuri Vine, right, drove him to the appointment.1of28

  Justin Vine gets his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Alamodome on Jan. 13, 2021. His wife, Anayuri Vine, right, drove him to the appointment.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine gets reacquainted with his daughter, Charlotte, who is comforted by her mother and his wife, Anayuri Vine, during his first moments home on October 2, 2020, after a three-month hospitalization for COVID-19.2of28

  Justin Vine gets reacquainted with his daughter, Charlotte, who is comforted by her mother and his wife, Anayuri Vine, during his first moments home on October 2, 2020, after a three-month hospitalization for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine gets reacquainted with his daughter, Charlotte, held by his friend, Melinda Casta?o, during his first moments at home after a three-month hospital stay for COVID-19.3of28

  Justin Vine gets reacquainted with his daughter, Charlotte, held by his friend, Melinda Casta?o, during his first moments at home after a three-month hospital stay for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine hold his daughter, Charlotte, during his first moments at home after a three-month stay in the hospital for COVID-19. He had been gone for a third of Charlotte's life.4of28

  Justin Vine hold his daughter, Charlotte, during his first moments at home after a three-month stay in the hospital for COVID-19. He had been gone for a third of Charlotte’s life.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine sits at the end of his driveway and talks with friends in their cars during a welcome home drive-by parade a day after his discharge from a three-month hospital stay for COVID-19.5of28

  Justin Vine sits at the end of his driveway and talks with friends in their cars during a welcome home drive-by parade a day after his discharge from a three-month hospital stay for COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine rests after dancing with his wife, Anayuri Vine, at their home in San Antonio after doing physical therapy exercises on Nov. 25, 2020.6of28

  Justin Vine rests after dancing with his wife, Anayuri Vine, at their home in San Antonio after doing physical therapy exercises on Nov. 25, 2020.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine is handed extra disposable masks as he returns to work as a pediatric nurse practitioner at Aguirre Pediatrics in San Antonio for the first time in person since he fell ill with COVID-19 the previous year. He saw patients virtually for three months while he was recovering at home.7of28

  Justin Vine is handed extra disposable masks as he returns to work as a pediatric nurse practitioner at Aguirre Pediatrics in San Antonio for the first time in person since he fell ill with COVID-19 the previous year. He saw patients virtually for three months while he was recovering at home.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine talks with colleagues on his first day back at work after his long battle with COVID-19.8of28

  Justin Vine talks with colleagues on his first day back at work after his long battle with COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine walks to see a patient as he returns to work in person as a pediatric nurse practitioner for the first time since he fell ill with COVID-19.9of28

  Justin Vine walks to see a patient as he returns to work in person as a pediatric nurse practitioner for the first time since he fell ill with COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

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  “When I’m talking to him my world just turns around,” says Vanessa Rodriguez, whose four children are patients of Justin Vine, as he checks in on her during his first day back at Aguirre Pediatrics since his battle with COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine walks outside on moving day from a rental house in San Antonio to his new home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.11of28

  Justin Vine walks outside on moving day from a rental house in San Antonio to his new home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine stands by as friends from church help his family, including wife, Anayuri Vine, and their daughter, Charlotte, 1, move from a rental house in San Antonio to their new home in Cibolo.12of28

  Justin Vine stands by as friends from church help his family, including wife, Anayuri Vine, and their daughter, Charlotte, 1, move from a rental house in San Antonio to their new home in Cibolo.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Charlotte Vine, 1, reaches out to her father Justin Vine, as he and friends from church helping his family, take a break on moving day from their rental home in San Antonio to his home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.13of28

  Charlotte Vine, 1, reaches out to her father Justin Vine, as he and friends from church helping his family, take a break on moving day from their rental home in San Antonio to his home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine watches as friends help him and his family move from a rental home in San Antonio to their new home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.14of28

  Justin Vine watches as friends help him and his family move from a rental home in San Antonio to their new home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  The lingering effects of COVID-19 and his long stay in an intensive care unit left Justin Vine with restricted mobility, so he relied on friends to help him and his family move across town to his new home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.15of28

  The lingering effects of COVID-19 and his long stay in an intensive care unit left Justin Vine with restricted mobility, so he relied on friends to help him and his family move across town to his new home in Cibolo on March 6, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine waves to a neighbor as friends from his church help his family move from a rental house in San Antonio to their new home in Cibolo.16of28

  Justin Vine waves to a neighbor as friends from his church help his family move from a rental house in San Antonio to their new home in Cibolo.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  One-year-old Charlotte Vine attends an Easter Sunday service with her parents, Anayuri and Justin Vine, at Grace Avenue Church on April 4, 2021.17of28

  One-year-old Charlotte Vine attends an Easter Sunday service with her parents, Anayuri and Justin Vine, at Grace Avenue Church on April 4, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Daniel Villarreal Jr, left, talks with Justin Vine as he greets members and visitors for Easter Sunday services at Grace Avenue Church.18of28

  Daniel Villarreal Jr, left, talks with Justin Vine as he greets members and visitors for Easter Sunday services at Grace Avenue Church.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Anayuri Vine arrives to sit with her husband, Justin Vine during an Easter Sunday service at Grace Avenue Church on April 4, 2021. The Vines volunteered to greet members and visitors arriving for earlier services before attending the later morning service themselves.19of28

  Anayuri Vine arrives to sit with her husband, Justin Vine during an Easter Sunday service at Grace Avenue Church on April 4, 2021. The Vines volunteered to greet members and visitors arriving for earlier services before attending the later morning service themselves.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine returns to his seat after being called to the center of the dance floor for a welcome back to the in-person Latin dance scene at UNA Mas Bachata's four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.20of28

  Justin Vine returns to his seat after being called to the center of the dance floor for a welcome back to the in-person Latin dance scene at UNA Mas Bachata’s four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine takes a break from dancing with his wife, Anayuri Vine, right, and their friend, Melinda Casta?o, left, at UNA Mas Bachata's four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.21of28

  Justin Vine takes a break from dancing with his wife, Anayuri Vine, right, and their friend, Melinda Casta?o, left, at UNA Mas Bachata’s four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  A steady stream of friends stop to talk with Justin Vine during UNA Mas Bachata's four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021. It was Justin's first time out dancing since he fell severely ill with COVID-19.22of28

  A steady stream of friends stop to talk with Justin Vine during UNA Mas Bachata’s four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021. It was Justin’s first time out dancing since he fell severely ill with COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine is embraced as he leaves UNA Mas Bachata's four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.23of28

  Justin Vine is embraced as he leaves UNA Mas Bachata’s four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Surrounded by family and friends from the San Antonio Latin dance community and his church, Justin Vine poses for photos during his 41st birthday party at his home in Cibolo on May 28, 2021.24of28

  Surrounded by family and friends from the San Antonio Latin dance community and his church, Justin Vine poses for photos during his 41st birthday party at his home in Cibolo on May 28, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine dances with friends during his 41st birthday party.25of28

  Justin Vine dances with friends during his 41st birthday party.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine plays a pool game with his friends and family during his 41st birthday party at his home in Cibolo on May 28, 2021.26of28

  Justin Vine plays a pool game with his friends and family during his 41st birthday party at his home in Cibolo on May 28, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine, with his wife, Anayuri Vine, and their daughter, Charlotte, 1, embraces his older daughter, Naomi, upon her arrival to San Antonio International Airport on June 15, 2021. Naomi and Abby, right, were staying with their mother in Connecticut while their father battled and then recovered from COVID-19.27of28

  Justin Vine, with his wife, Anayuri Vine, and their daughter, Charlotte, 1, embraces his older daughter, Naomi, upon her arrival to San Antonio International Airport on June 15, 2021. Naomi and Abby, right, were staying with their mother in Connecticut while their father battled and then recovered from COVID-19.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  Justin Vine, his wife, Anayrui Vine, and their daughter, Charlotte, wait with his older daughters, Naomi, left, and Abby, right, for their luggage after their arrival at San Antonio International Airport on June 15, 2021. Justin had not seen Abby in close to a year and Naomi in 18 months while they lived with their mother in Connecticut.28of28

  Justin Vine, his wife, Anayrui Vine, and their daughter, Charlotte, wait with his older daughters, Naomi, left, and Abby, right, for their luggage after their arrival at San Antonio International Airport on June 15, 2021. Justin had not seen Abby in close to a year and Naomi in 18 months while they lived with their mother in Connecticut.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographerShow MoreShow Less

  In that time, he and Anayuri had bought their first home together, a four-bedroom in Cibolo with an in-ground pool. He was teaching nursing students again at work. His fingers were slowly regaining movement, and sensation had returned to the top half of his foot.

  With Charlotte, it was almost like he had never been gone, and he could even pick her up and walk with her for a few steps. He was talking to his older daughters about coming to live with him.

  Anayuri had turned 31 a few months earlier. His 41st birthday was in a month. They were both vaccinated, and the city was coming back to life. It felt like they had a clean slate.

  On ExpressNews.com: ‘Not done’:Delta coronavirus variant a threat to unvaccinated, partially vaccinated San Antonians

  Lee Rios, right, the founder of Semeneya Dance Studio, talks about Justin Vine's battle with COVID-19 and return to UNA Mas Bachata for its first event in more than a year at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.

  Lee Rios, right, the founder of Semeneya Dance Studio, talks about Justin Vine’s battle with COVID-19 and return to UNA Mas Bachata for its first event in more than a year at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Lee Rios, owner of Semeneya Dance Studio and the event’s organizer, stood in the center of the dance floor. He announced that face masks would be enforced, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent rescinding the statewide mandate.

  “We actually have a guy here who we almost lost — three months in the hospital, in a coma. Justin, in the house,” Rios said. “We want to have a good time — and we want to continue living. Right, Justin?”

  Justin took Anayuri’s hand and led her to the dance floor. As the couple began to move to the music, his friends clapped and cheered.

  It was a cha-cha, a slower style that was more manageable for Justin. As they danced, his nerves eased. He was elated to be back doing something he loved.

  “Now I’m tired,” Justin said after they returned to the table. He took a long swig of beer.

  But it wasn’t long before he and Anayuri felt the pull of the music again.

  Together, they stepped back onto the dance floor.

  Justin Vine dances with his wife, Anayuri Vine, during UNA Mas Bachata's four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.

  Justin Vine dances with his wife, Anayuri Vine, during UNA Mas Bachata’s four-year anniversary party at Ballroom Dance Annex in San Antonio on April 24, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

  Justin celebrated his birthday in late May with a pool party at his new house. He was more than happy to say goodbye to 40. That same month, he got health insurance through Anayuri’s job.

  A few weeks earlier, his mother and grandmother were both hospitalized with COVID-19 in Connecticut. He monitored their illnesses from afar, talking to them as often as he could. The pandemic was not over yet.

  On June 15, Abby and Naomi arrived in San Antonio, their cat in tow. They posed for photos with Charlotte, who was now walking.

  Justin could not have imagined a better Father’s Day gift.

  Justin Vine catches up with friends during his 41st birthday party at his home in Cibolo on May 28, 2021.

  Justin Vine catches up with friends during his 41st birthday party at his home in Cibolo on May 28, 2021.

  Lisa Krantz, Staff / Staff photographer

  lcaruba@express-news.net

  Design by Angela Alcala-Bach

  A version of this article will appear in print on July 4, 2021, on Page A1 of the San Antonio Express-News. | Today’s Paper

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