Jubilation filled the halls of Schneider Regional Medical Center on Friday morning as “Sam the Sailor” was released from the hospital 12 weeks and one day after falling critically ill with COVID-19 as his cargo vessel traversed Virgin Islands waters.
“Thank you, God bless you. I can go home to my family,” said Rolly Tolentino, 47, pumping his fist from his gurney as dozens of hospital staff cheered his recovery while the theme song from “Rocky” played in the background.
After a final journey through the halls to hurrahs, clapping and photos, Tolentino was loaded into an ambulance for a medical flight back to his home in the Philippines.
“I am so proud of the Schneider Regional Medical Center team,” said Dr. Luis Amaro, the hospital’s interim chief executive officer, who joined the celebration. “All the doctors, nurses and technicians – the team got him through many ups and downs, aware of the terrible destruction this disease causes. They made sure he got the best of care. I can’t speak enough about the diligence the team has,” he said, adding that not one person got sick while caring for Tolentino.
Amaro also credited Tolentino, noting his will and fighting spirit that “saw him persevere through this disease.”
“It’s a very happy day,” said St. Thomas/Water Island Administrator Avery L. Lewis, who also joined in Tolentino’s happy sendoff. “We know that this individual would not have made it” had the Virgin Islands not rendered aid, said Lewis, referring to the decision to take the sailor in on May 8 after Puerto Rico refused his ship entry due to coronavirus fears.
“It is great to see our tradition of holding out a welcome to one and all was not in vain,” Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. – who dubbed Tolentino “Sam the Sailor” in his early press conferences on the virus – said via email. “Much thanks to our health care workers and the staff at Schneider Hospital for nursing our guest back to health. We wish Sam the Sailor Godspeed and hope he knows he will always have a home in the Virgin Islands.”
“I call it the love in this hospital here today – to bring him from critically sick to what I would call 80 percent today. It’s no one-man show. It’s a team effort,” Lewis said, speaking also from personal experience. Lewis recently recovered from COVID-19 and had high praise for the support of the hospital staff in ensuring his recovery, along with the Health Department.
“We were able to render aid, and not be selfish and close our door, and save a life,” Lewis said of Tolentino’s recovery.
“Wear your mask, stay hydrated and stay sanitized and this too shall pass,” the administrator added.