If he wasn’t reading or resting, Johnny Llanes was praying.
He spent 25 days in his home office beginning July 8, the day he found out he tested positive for COVID-19. As a nurse practitioner, Johnny, who’s diabetic and has high blood pressure, knows well about how vicious the virus is, and was terrified knowing he had to fight it.
Johnny faced the worst of the disease during his eighth day in isolation.
“That was a nightmare,” the 58-year-old said, recalling how he couldn’t breathe. He still remembers the prayer he recited that night.
“Lord, please help me get through this morning, please get me to 7 o’clock,” he pleaded.
Under the same roof, Johnny’s partner, Albert Alaniz was also praying.
Albert lives with Johnny and cared for him throughout his time in isolation. They’re best friends and started a local talent agency together, John Albert Talent & Models.
Now they also run Project Covid Care – The Project Care Foundation, a volunteer-run organization that brings groceries and other necessities to the elderly population across the region.
Although aware of the needs in the area, the two have their own harrowing experiences to draw from.
While Johnny quarantined in the office when he was sick, Albert brought him meals and medications with a mask and pair of gloves. It was difficult considering Albert just wanted to hug his best friend as he faced the most difficult time of his life.
Albert was praying for two things then: for the health and strength of his best friend, and for the comfort of his own family, who was deep in grief for the loss of their youngest sibling, Freddy Alaniz.
Freddy died on July 19 at Edinburg Regional Hospital due to COVID-19. He was 55.
Bearing the anxiety of caring for someone with the virus while mourning the death of his baby brother was nearly unmanageable, Albert said.
It was his faith that kept him rooted.
“My faith has always been really strong, and this time, I was praying just so, so hard,” Albert said.
Freddy was the youngest of nine close-knit siblings. Albert’s memories of going to church summer camp with him, and how he was their mother’s favorite, bring him to tears. Freddy had also recently retired as a security guard at Edinburg North High School.
Albert was one of the last of the siblings to see Freddy. Three days before Freddy died, Albert brought his brother soup and other groceries and medicine. His last moments with his brother were spent engaging in small talk from behind their masks, and at a fair distance apart.
“I felt so helpless,” Albert said of his time caring for his best friend while knowing the pain that the worst of the virus can bring.
After three weeks of leaving meals at the front of the office, three weeks of desperately wishing to embrace his friend while he heard him coughing through the walls, Johnny was declared COVID-19 free.
Albert and Johnny’s faith has also pushed them into volunteer work and launching their foundation.
With about 10 more volunteers, they collect donations to purchase groceries of those who are most vulnerable to the disease and are fearful of leaving their homes. They leave the goods at their doorstep.
Several local restaurants, such as Pappa’s Pizza in Alton, have donated meals to the organization to distribute.
Since they started the initiative in March, the organization has helped nearly 300 households across Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
When Johnny was diagnosed with COVID-19, the weight of the organization fell on Albert, who gladly continued to run it.
“How could I not continue helping others, that is my joy,” Albert said. “It was hard, with everything I was going through, but I could not stop helping those in need.”
Johnny is still recuperating from his fight with COVID-19, and is looking forward to helping again.
“When I was in that office room, I was just telling myself, ‘I am going to make it through this, I am going to make it,’ and I did,” he said. “There is a reason I survived this and it’s to help others.”