After COVID, Midlothian Resident Richard Peña Says “Don’t Take Life For Granted”

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Richard Pena surrounded by damily
Nickey Peña(son), Presley Peña (daughter), Richard Peña, Jeniffer Peña(wife), Landen Milholen (stepson) Photo by Ray Hall

Richard Peña Back Home After 90+ Days Battling COVID

MIDLOTHIAN – Richard Peña is a veteran of both the U.S. Marine Corps and the Midlothian Police Department, but Peña’s recent bout with COVID-19 took him down a completely different road to find his strength.

The 47-year-old EXP Realty real estate agent and Midlothian ISD School Board Trustee  recently spent three months in the hospital. When his wife, Jeniffer, took him to the ER with his oxygen level at 35 they never imagined the emotional journey ahead.

In fact, Richard is still recovering, so his wife, Jeniffer, tells the story that fortunately ended well.

“They ended up intubating him about four hours after I took him to the ER. Then he was put in ICU the next morning when I went up there,” she explained. “They told me he was on an ECMO wait list. Thank the Lord, he was Careflighted out pretty quickly to Plano since they had a machine available.”

Richard was elected to the Midlothian School Board on May 1st, and was sworn in later that month. Then on June 24, he was diagnosed with COVID-19. The father of five was healthy with no known pre-existing conditions when he contracted the virus.

Midlothian Community Rallied Around Peña Family

Mrs. Peña said her husband has no recollection of the experience of COVID-19 while in the hospital, explaining he was sedated most of the two months he was in Plano.

Even now he is still recovering since he returned home on September 30.

He had the trach tube for a little over two months. She related her husband also did PT/OT but has no memory of it.

And, while Richard didn’t know exactly what was happening while he was ill, those around him were very aware and many were rooting for his recovering daily. The family made a private Facebook group with over 1700 members where Jeniffer updated members daily. Friends created “Praying for Peña” t-shirts made by Rally Sportswear, and over 200 were purchased with proceeds going to the family.

“As his wife, it was very emotional (for us),” Mrs. Peña continued. “… Not knowing what you were going to walk into each day. He had tons of things hooked up to him. ECMO tubes, trachea, and tons of medication. Fighting for his life every day.”

On The Road To Recovery

Once Richard was back to Methodist Midlothian, things began to happen fast. He got weaned off the ventilator, off any medication he no longer needed, and then was able to begin eating solid food. He was then transferred to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Dallas, where he stayed for three weeks. The trachea and the feeding tube were removed as well as the IV’s. Then he began rehabilitation.

He remained at the VA for another two weeks before he was allowed to return home.

“It was less than 100 days,” Peña said. “A miracle for sure.”

“Richard didn’t really realize until he was at Methodist Midlothian that the prayer page was up,” his wife said. “Or that the t-shirts were made. He was very overwhelmed with joy from all the community support and so appreciative of all the prayers from everyone in the community.”

‘Be Quicker To Listen, and Slow to Anger’

With an ordeal such as what Richard has gone through, some might wonder if it has changed him, but Peña said it has not changed her husband’s view of the pandemic at all.

Of course, there have been struggles.

“Once he was coherent and knew where he was, his biggest struggle was anxiety and wanting to be home,” Peña explained. “During his time at the VA with no visitors and being alone was also a struggle for my husband, but it made him work harder to get home quicker.”

Richard added to his wife’s thoughts in closing “Don’t take things in life for granted – be quicker to listen and slow to anger,” he concluded. “And I also want to thank God for saving my life and my wife for being the best advocate for me while I was fighting for my life.”

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