On Thursday, a line of doctors and nurses at Rush University Medical Center cheered on 55-year-old Claudio Velez as he was wheeled out of the emergency room to be reunited with his family.
Velez was admitted to the hospital two weeks after opening his first restaurant in August.
He spent much of his time on a ventilator, and at times, in critical condition.
“Thank you everybody for helping me and my family. Thank you so much,” said Velez.
His son, Osmar Abad, welcomed him with open arms after weeks of video chatting with his father from the hospital bed.
“I had many restless nights and one-on-one conversations with my dad. We’re very close,” said Abad.
Abad translated for his father during an afternoon press conference at the hospital. He said his father prayed with his nurse.
“I felt like it wasn’t even him. It was a higher power watching over me. The next day I woke up, I felt different.”
Before Velez contracted the coronavirus in August, he had just celebrated the opening of his first restaurant in Ukrainian Village.
Velez had been selling his famous tamales to Chicago bar goers for nearly two decades until the pandemic shut down nightlife, essentially wiping out his business.
But his customers rallied behind him, raising enough money to make his dream come true.
The celebration was cut short by his coronavirus diagnosis.
“He’s had quite a long road, but it’s been a privilege to care for him,” said Chief Nurse Officer Angelique Richard.
The restaurant has been operating without him.
Velez will finish his recovery at home. He says he hopes to be back at the restaurant within two weeks.