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Dr. Juan Rojas outside his home in north Kenwood.

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Chicago doctor treating coronavirus can’t go near wife, 5-year-old son, finds ways to connect

Dr. Juan Rojas, a supervising doctor at the University of Chicago Medicine intensive-care unit, talks with them via FaceTime — from his basement.

Dr. Juan Rojas outside his home in north Kenwood.
| Annie Costabile / Sun-Times

The last time Dr. Juan Rojas kissed, hugged or had physical contact of any kind with his 5-year-old son Mateo was March 30 — the day he headed to his job as a supervising doctor at the University of Chicago Medicine’s intensive-care unit.

For the foreseeable future, Rojas is living away from his son and wife Mollie in the basement of their north Kenwood home. They say hello each morning via FaceTime.

“He does understand that I could potentially have germs and get Mommy and him sick and that we should stay physically away from each other until it’s safe,” said Rojas, 35, a pulmonary specialist who is treating some of the city’s sickest coronavirus patients.

At work, too, sustaining the human connection is a challenge in an environment where doctors sometimes resemble workers venturing into a damaged nuclear power plant. Voices get garbled. Patients often can’t see the kind face behind the visor.

“We’re learning on the fly how best to have that human connection while still maintaining safety,” Rojas said from his basement .

In the past week, he oversaw the care of about a dozen people with COVID-19.

“Ingenious,” Rojas said of doctors at an out-of-state hospital who taped laminated photographs of their faces to their chests.

Speaking with his patients’ families is critical, particularly when it becomes clear a loved one isn’t going to pull through, as happened to a “few” patients last week.

“I took solace in that, that we sort of saw the trajectory of some of those patients and were able to give the family some heads up, as opposed to making a call in the middle of the night and saying, ‘By the way, your loved has passed,’ ” Rojas said.

He calls his wife — a dentist now unemployed because of the coronavirus — his family’s “true hero.”

At home on a day off, Rojas’ son scribbled with colored chalk. Rojas stepped outside, wearing a surgical mask and staying 20 feet from his wife and son.

“That, for me, was special, in that I actually could see him beyond the window or on FaceTime,” Rojas said.

Which could be as good as it gets until the pandemic subsides.

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