They were a pair of young doctors in love who put off marriage to save lives.
As the pandemic raged in Ecuador last year, they posted a social media photo of themselves dressed in biohazard suits kissing and holding a sign saying: “Today was to be our wedding day, but instead…”
David Vallejo and Mavelin Bonilla's decision to postpone their May 23, 2020, wedding to treat COVID-19 patients at a large public hospital in southern Quito moved many people in Ecuador and beyond.
A second photo posted later showed them holding a sign reading: “We are working for you. BE CAREFUL! Don't let your guard down.”
But within months, both would come down with what appeared to be COVID-19.
Vallejo would be fighting for his life in intensive care. Bonilla, who experienced only mild symptoms, would be shattered after being told her fiancée had a less than 10% chance of survival.
Bonilla, 26, told The Associated Press that she had been sad when the couple posted the initial photo announcing the wedding delay. “It really was a dream — I don't know if for all girls but at least for me it was — to leave my house in white and marry David. It was my longing, my dream.”
But the health crisis in Ecuador was spiraling out of control. Hundreds of patients were arriving every day at the Social Security hospital where they worked, and there were long waiting lists for hospital beds.
The South American country of 17.4 million people by now has recorded about 434,000 cases and 21,000 confirmed deaths.
Vallejo was the oldest resident at the time and was in charge of the most seriously ill patients. He immersed himself for months trying to save lives — and sometimes failing.
“They were months in which a lot of patients died and it was hard; I came home crying,” said Vallejo, who survived COVID-19 but is still undergoing physical and speech therapy to recover. “I had to call the relatives to inform them.”
In January, both of the couple exhibited COVID-19 symptoms and Vallejo's condition rapidly deteriorated. He was told he would be intubated for seven days to save his life.
“I never felt more scared,” he recalled.
He said he asked for a pen and paper and wrote: “I am Doc David, I have a fervent desire to live life, fulfill my dreams.” Among his dreams, he wrote, was to get married, build a family and travel to Spain to study a specialty. He thanked his colleagues for their efforts to save him.