After being contacted by numerous Florida residents who have lost family members in hospital COVID-19 wards, The Florida Standard decided that it is critical to inform the public of these people’s experiences. This is Raquel’s story of what happened to her father, Efrain Quiles.
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA — In October of 2021, Efrain Quiles, a 76-year-old father and grandfather, was having trouble breathing. He told his daughter, Raquel, that he was thinking about going to the hospital.
“I told him not to do it. I was shouting from the rooftop, ‘Do not go to the hospital, we can treat it here at home.’ But he went anyway,” Raquel says. “He went to the emergency room.”
Raquel, a 57-year-old notary loan closer in Sunrise, Florida, had heard many stories from all over the country of people with COVID or other conditions entering hospitals and not coming out alive.
“I’m the one in our family who’s always been researching things beyond what the TV tells us,” Raquel says.
At Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Efrain was diagnosed as being infected with “COVID-19 pneumonia.” Over the phone, Raquel heard medical staff tell her father that he needed to “go into extreme isolation.” Efrain was quickly transferred to a special ward where his family was not permitted to visit him.
Raquel says that the medical staff at Broward Health almost immediately tried to start her father on a medication called remdesivir.
“They want to give me ‘the cocktail,’” Raquel recalls Efrain telling her. But she had gathered information on the drug, and she didn’t want it anywhere near her father.
“We said from the onset that under no circumstances could they give him that. I had done my research, so I knew it was poison. That it would destroy your liver and kidneys,” Raquel tells The Florida Standard.
Remdesivir, marketed under the name Veklury and manufactured by Gilead Sciences, was originally developed as a potential treatment for Ebola. However, it was withdrawn from a study after it was determined that over 50 percent of patients treated with it died. A French pharmacovigilance study from 2020 states that there is a “statistically significant pharmacovigilance signal of nephrotoxicity associated with remdesivir.”
“I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO”
The next day, the physician who had been treating Raquel’s father before he went to the emergency room, Dr. Jean-Jacques Rajter, came to the hospital to check on his patient. Raquel says that Dr. Rajter was confronted by the emergency room doctor, who told him to leave.
“We’re taking over his case. You can’t be his doctor anymore,” the emergency room physician told Dr. Rajter, according to Raquel. The Florida Standard contacted Dr. Rajter’s clinic to ask him about the interaction, but he did not get back to us.
The first night at the hospital, Raquel’s father called her.
“Raquel, get me out of here. They’re trying to kill me,” he frantically told her over the phone.
(Raquel starts to cry. We have to stop the interview for a few minutes.)
“I said, Dad, I don’t think they’re trying to kill you. I prayed with him and I told him I was going to try to get him out. ‘Just keep breathing, Dad,’ I said.”
The next morning, Efrain called his daughter again.
“I took the shot,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Raquel asked.
“Remdesivir,” Efrain responded.
Raquel was shocked and angry. According to Raquel, her father told her that early in the morning, a nurse and the attending physician had come into Efrain’s room. Raquel says that they had told her father that if he didn’t take remdesivir, he was going to die in three days. So despite his reservations, Efrain relented and accepted the drug. The notes in the medical record state that Efrain was “responsive conversational incoherent” (a statement which seems contradictory) and that he “did not refuse remdesivir this morning.”
“I didn’t know what to do!” Efrain told Raquel, who immediately called the nurse assigned to her father.
“I told the nurse that it was written in his file not to give him remdesivir. The nurse said that they had made a mistake. Later in the day, when I talked to her again, she had changed her story and claimed that Dad had been conscious enough to make the decision and that he had said ‘yes.’”
After Raquel’s intervention, the remdesivir was stopped.
PUSHING FOR VENTILATOR
Raquel says that the medical staff was pushing for putting Efrain on a ventilator as soon as he came into the hospital.
“I told them that they couldn’t put him on a ventilator – he had pneumonia! Pushing all that air into his lungs would mess him up,” Raquel says.
Despite the family’s objections, Efrain was put on a ventilator overnight. The medical staff told the family that there was no other option – Efrain’s condition had required it.
35 DIFFERENT DRUGS
Once sedated and on the ventilator, the doctors pumped Efrain full of an array of pharmaceuticals. At one point, he was on 35 different drugs.
What is notable with the medication list is that Efrain was given several opioids – oxycodone and fentanyl – plus the benzodiazepine midazolam and the sedative anesthetic propofol. It is well-established that these medications all have potentially negative effects on the lungs and the ability to breathe.
According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, “Intravenous midazolam has been associated with respiratory depression and respiratory arrest, especially when used for sedation in noncritical care settings.” The FDA also warns that midazolam can cause “death and hypoxic encephalopathy” – a brain injury caused by reduced oxygen or blood flow to the brain.
When it comes to oxycodone, the FDA warns: “Serious, life-threatening, or fatal respiratory depression may occur with use of oxycodone.” Fentanyl is known for causing both respiratory and central nervous system depression. Propofol can also cause cardiorespiratory depression, according to the FDA.
Both the FDA and studies state that combining opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone with benzodiazepines – like midazolam – presents a severe risk of shutting down the respiratory system. Efrain Quiles was also put on quetiapine, the generic name for the antipsychotic drug Seroquel – designed to treat severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
The Florida Standard asked Dr. Stephen Guffanti, a physician in Sarasota who has 50 years of experience practicing medicine – the majority of them as an emergency room doctor – to take a look at Efrain’s medical records from Broward Health Medical Center.
Dr. Guffanti agrees that the medication list seems excessive, but it’s not his main problem with Efrain’s treatment.
“Sometimes you need to use heavy sedatives when a patient is on a ventilator, because the natural response is to try to free yourself and rip out tubes and hoses,” Dr. Guffanti says. “But I question whether Mr. Quiles should have been on a ventilator at all.”
“Mr. Quiles was seen five days after COVID symptoms, which is around the end of him being contagious. On October 14, he was kept in isolation and placed on an antiviral, remdesivir, even though his white blood cell count had tripled – indicating that a bacterial infection had started,” Dr. Guffanti explains.
“No consulting doctor mentioned that blood cultures, sputum or urine cultures were done at that time, but by November 4, Mr. Quiles’ blood showed a positive blood culture. He was treated for the wrong infection without a proper work-up. There is no rationale given for these decisions,” Dr. Guffanti tells The Florida Standard.
NEGATIVE – THEN POSITIVE
The family wanted Efrain to be re-tested for COVID-19, but it proved to be an uphill battle. They finally were able to convince the medical staff, who administered the test. It came back negative.
“As soon as we found out, I told the hospital staff that we wanted my father out of the COVID ward – out of isolation – and back in a regular hospital room, so that we could see him. But they said that they had to take another COVID test and that they couldn’t move him,” Raquel tells The Florida Standard.
According to Raquel, the doctor told her that the COVID-19 test often comes back with a false negative – and that they had to take another test. That one came back positive. So Efrain was kept isolated in the COVID ward, without any possibility for his family to see him.
“THEY MURDERED HIM”
Raquel tried to get a meeting with the leadership of the hospital to discuss her father’s case. The same day she was supposed to meet with a representative for Broward Health, her father passed away. The coroner’s report states that the cause of death was “COVID-19 pneumonia.”
“We didn’t get to say goodbye to him. A nurse came out and told us in the parking lot,” Raquel says – pointing out the complete lack of empathy and compassion that she experienced from the medical staff.
After Efrain had passed away, Raquel requested her father’s medical records. The hospital complied, but the more than 2,000 pages of records were delivered jumbled – not in chronological order. While reading them, she found something that shocked and infuriated her.
“Since they had tricked him into taking remdesivir, I kept asking about his kidneys and liver. The doctors and the nurses always said that the tests were fine. Then I saw that he was on dialysis…”
Raquel breaks down.
“It took them 33 days to murder my father,” she says. “Because that’s what they did. They murdered him.”
BROWARD HEALTH RESPONDS
The Florida Standard asked Broward Health Medical Center for comments on Raquel Quiles’ story about what happened to her father. Jennifer Smith, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications, provided the following statement:
“Our exceptional physicians work closely with patient families to provide clinically appropriate recommendations and determine the best courses of action for patient care. Due to HIPAA privacy laws, we cannot comment on the treatment of a specific patient, but we always prioritize the well-being of both our patients and their families.”