MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)If Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, for the Pastores family of Cannon Falls, it’s a marker of yet another season beginning with the trauma of COVID-19 still lingering.

“His whole season of winter he was sedated pretty much with COVID,” said Gabe Pastores’ wife, Cindi, recalling her husband’s battle with coronavirus. “‘I’m sorry Mrs. Pastores, but we don’t have a good prognosis for you.’ I don’t wish that on anyone.”

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When Pastores first tested positive in November with a fever, his family thought his bout with COVID would be brief. After all, he’s 56 with no underlying health conditions and has never really fallen ill. But soon after he was taken to the hospital, where he spent months fighting for his life.

Springtime had come by the time he could go home.

“You don’t want to get as sick as he did. It’s scary,” she said. “I’ve never been so emotional in my life.”

Now, six months since Gabe was diagnosed and initially hospitalized — a stay that included nine weeks on a ventilator in the ICU, four of which were on a lung bypass machine — he still has to pause to catch his breath. Even doing simple tasks, he said, feels like running a marathon. With supplemental oxygen flowing through his nose, he ponders all of the mundane tasks he used to do and longs to do again.

“I want to be able to drive again, walk my dog, work in my own yard,” he said, at times getting teary during an interview with WCCO Monday.

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Gabe Pastores (credit: The Pastores Family)

The Pastores family hopes their story will serve as a reminder that even if life is starting to feel more normal with all COVID restrictions lifting in the state, the virus is still here — and that if Minnesotans haven’t gotten a vaccine, they should consider it.

So far, 65% of Minnesotans 16 and older have had at least one dose, according to state data. State officials want to get to a threshold of 70% by July 1, launching an incentive program with freebies for an extra boost.

Vaccinations have been declining in recent weeks. State officials have acknowledged that now the initial surge demand has waned, and now the hard work of combatting hesitancy and making shots more available in certain communities really begins.

Cindi Pastores said she understands the apprehension about getting the shot because she’s been through those feelings herself. But at the urging of Gabe’s doctors because of his continued risk, she got the vaccine.

“This hit home,” she said. “And I probably, to be perfectly honest, wouldn’t have gotten the vaccine, you know. I would’ve been afraid of what it would’ve done to my [multiple sclerosis].”

Gabe may be eligible to get his vaccine in August; his system needs to be clear of drugs used for treatment before that can happen. Even when he’s vaccinated, he will still have a long road to recovery ahead, but his family vows to fight.

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“I’m not trying to lecture people and say, ‘Go get your vaccine.’ Just want you to think about it,” Cindi Pastores said. “Do you really want to risk going through what we just went through to [not] get two shots in the arm?”

Caroline Cummings