Frontline Fighters: 2 South Florida frontline workers return to work following bout with COVID-19

(WSVN) - There are countless medical workers across the country fighting against COVID-19, both professionally and personally. Tonight, we meet two of them here in South Florida who have battled back from the virus. 7’s Kevin Ozebek has this special assignment report: “Frontline Fighters.”

Maria Sulayman and Keith Martin have two things in common.

The ICU nurse and firefighter paramedic have both been on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, and both caught and survived COVID-19 themselves.

Maria Sulayman, ICU Nurse, Jackson Health System: “The most terrifying thing I’ve ever encountered in medicine.”

Lt. Keith Martin, Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue: “It was like the flu on steroids. I mean, just something you can never imagine.”

Maria is a critical care nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

She deals directly with COVID patients.

Maria Sulayman: “It was heartbreaking. The patients were very scared.”

In June, it was Maria who was scared.

The nurse tested positive herself.

Maria Sulayman: “I didn’t know if I was going to make it a couple of days out of it. I didn’t know if I had to go to the intensive care unit myself. When it was very severe, I could not breathe. I could not get a breath in.”

Maria monitored her oxygen levels and says her symptoms included headaches, body aches and a persistent sore throat.

It took her a month to fully recover.

Sadly, the Jackson Health System lost three members of its family due to COVID-19. ICU nurse Araceli Buendia Ilagan, Dr. Luis Caldera-Nieves and radiology technician Devin Francis all died of complications from the virus.

Lt. Keith Martin: “It is something that crossed our mind quite often losing a brother and sister here at the agency.”

Lt. Keith Martin works for Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue and is based at the airport.

Lt. Keith Martin: “We respond to all types of emergency medical calls, and we’re always cautious, and we’re ready. When you throw a pandemic on top of that, for us, it’s like we don’t know what to expect.”

Because of precautions he took, Keith was not expecting to test positive.

Lt. Keith Martin: “When you hear the news, your heart stops for a second almost. You feel like your heart stops, and you have a sense of anxiety ’cause you don’t know if this is the end for you.”

Keith quarantined at home.

He stayed in one bedroom or outside on the patio away from his wife and two daughters.

Lt. Keith Martin: “They were very terrified to know that daddy was exposed to COVID. Through the sliding glass doors, we would touch hands, and we would talk and communicate, but it was definitely not a pleasurable experience.”

Keith had a throbbing headache and his fever spiked to almost 102 degrees, but he says by day 14, he felt great and was back to work after testing negative twice.

Lt. Keith Martin: “I mean, I love this profession. I love my career. I love my job, so for me, this is who I am, so I mean, hey, if being exposed to COVID is part of the job, it’s what we signed up for.”

Meanwhile, Thursday was Maria’s first day back at Jackson and is once again in the ICU caring for critically ill COVID patients.

Maria Sulayman: “I’m actually very excited to go back and help my coworkers. I’m really happy that I got my strength back, and I know how much they’ve been suffering and how desperate they are.”

Frontline fighters working around the clock to help others.

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