SAN ANTONIO — The antiviral drug Paxlovid is gaining popularity.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden is taking the medication now after contracting COVID-19, and both President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci were also prescribed the pill.
The medication fights the virus that causes COVID. It's specifically used to treat people over 65 or those with underlying health conditions.
One San Antonio man is sharing his story that he says everyone needs to hear.
88-year-old Richard Ortiz has multiple underlying health conditions and received his boosters to fight COVID-19. Last month, he contracted the virus and took a medication that he says changed his life.
He's sharing his story with KENS 5 in hopes of saving a life.
"I did carving and all kinds of stuff like that when I was young."
Ortiz was a woodworker all his life. His career brought him to San Antonio just before the arrival of John Paul II in 1987. Ortiz's company restored the pews at San Fernando Cathedral.
"Then I worked with chemicals. Then I smoked. I thought I was a big shot," said Ortiz.
Ortiz has a history of illnesses including asthma and pulmonary fibrosis. He's on oxygen 24/7 to help him breathe.
"What they consider me now is terminal because there's no cure, there's no medication right now, there's nothing," he explained. "So I'm now on hospice."
July 18, shortly after leaving the hospital for a lung infection, Ortiz tested positive for COVID.
"[Health professionals] tell me if I were to ever get the COVID, it's gonna be the end of me," said Ortiz.
The same day, his doctor prescribed him Paxlovid: an antiviral pill you take three times a day for five days.
"By 2 o'clock on the 18th I started taking it," said Ortiz. "By the 20th, I noticed a tremendous difference."
He says his doctor gave him two rounds of the medication. He never went back to the hospital.
"I felt better those two weeks with the COVID than without the COVID. That sounds silly, but really I did," he said. "No aches, no nothing. Something is in that medication that helped me. So I said to myself, this is amazing. That's the only thing I could attribute it to because I did nothing different."
Ortiz says what's most remarkable is symptoms from his other illnesses improved, too.
"I just felt different," he explained. "I felt good as if nothing was happening to me."
Dr. Jason Bowling, Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at UT Health San Antonio, says doctors are seeing impressive turnarounds in patients' symptoms on Paxlovid.
"It actually has about 89% success rate in keeping those patients that are at high risk from going to the hospital or dying in a month," said Bowling.
Bowling says Paxlovid helps prevent underlying illnesses like heart and lung disease from worsening. He says that could be why Mr. Ortiz felt better all-around.
"Some people have seen some pretty impressive turnarounds in their symptoms when they start taking the medicine," said Bowling.
Right now, people over 65 or with underlying health conditions can take Paxlovid.
For others, Bowling says the best alternative is getting vaccinated and boosted, if you're eligible.
Doctors say Paxlovid is being prescribed more frequently and an ongoing study is researching whether to expand those who are eligible.
Along with the president and Dr. Fauci taking Paxlovid, they also had what are called "rebound" cases. This means COVID symptoms returned and they became contagious again.
Doctors say this happens to less than 10% of patients and the good news is even with a rebound of symptoms, people still avoided going to the hospital.
"You can see a little bit of bump in viral load again so they can be transmissible to others," Bowling explained. "So it's recommended that if you have a rebound of your COVID symptoms after you finish your Paxlovid, you should still isolate for five days because you could potentially transmit to others."
Just to be safe, Bowling recommends Paxlovid patients stay masked five days after finishing their medication.
"If this can help someone else, if this can at least keep them from the hospital, keep them from pain, let's go for it," said Ortiz, explaining his reasoning for doing an interview. "I'm not trying to produce anything or trying to sell anything, promote anything. It's just my personal experience with this medication."
Ortiz is very active with his church in his free time. One of his weekly activities is attending Bible study at St. Brigid's Catholic Church.
To see a map of test and treat centers where Paxlovid is available, visit COVID.gov.