Former Iolani football star survives 20-day ventilator stint during COVID-19 battle


Often the last line of defense in the fight against COVID-19, is placing a patient on a ventilator.

A former Iolani all-state defensive lineman who now lives in Spokane, Washington is one of the lucky few to survive the worst that coronavirus has to offer after spending a month in the hospital, 20 days on a ventilator, 14 of which were in a medically-induced coma.

Ryan Ragaza-Bourassa is exactly what you think of when you hear ‘Iolani football: small but tough and relentless.

Back in the early 1990’s at just 5’10” 220 lbs. he was a first team All-State selection by the Honolulu Advertiser. That toughness is something that he had to recapture in his battle in the trenches with COVID-19, but it was another trait that he learned from his days in Hawaii to get him through the brink of death, the importance of family.

“I think I struggled just because we told our kids we were going to go to urgent care because we never took them. I think when I found out I had to be put on the ventilator, just knowing that I didn’t have time to give them a hug and tell them I love you.” Ragaza-Bourassa said.

Even when Ryan was awake, he could barely sleep.

“I definitely knew that the ventilator was in and it was probably the most miserable experience knowing that that tube was down into my lungs.”

Although he was lonely, Ragaza-Bourassa wasn’t alone.

“The cool thing about the nurses that I had is they were like family. They would bring the phone when I was in a coma and my friends would talk to me. Unfortunately I don’t remember any of it. And when I was actually up I had one of the nurses playing Hawaiian music for me.”

It saved him from the mental battles of sickness.

“That was the biggest thing, was my family. Parents, my wife and my kids. There were times where I definitely wanted to give up.”

Ryan made it through, finally being discharged in mid-April to a standing ovation from hospital staff.

“That was my friend works in the ER and he’s the actual one who wheeled me out. He originally told me it was going to be the ICU team which they did a phenomenal job and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for all of the care that they provided me. But basically we turned the corner and I assumed it was going to be 20-30 people, but when I saw that line I broke down. It was so emotional and I was just so grateful to have that kind of send off.”

At the end of the line was the waiting arms of his sons Micah and Noah as well as wife Anna.

“Seeing their faces in person being able to hug them. I can’t describe that feeling.”

The celebration didn’t end there. On the ride home, Ryan’s Spokane neighborhood waited outside to welcome him back. Ryan says the aloha from Washington to Hawaii helped him survive. Now, he wants to help others with some advice from his experience.

“I’m happy to be alive again and sharing my story hopefully giving some hope to people that it can be beat but also that the virus is a real thing and I know staying home and the social distancing is tough. But this virus doesn’t discriminate it’s not just elderly people. I’m 45 and it can happen to anybody and it has.”

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