“The kindest soul you could ever meet” — beloved El Paso ER tech dies of COVID-19
Jose “Jojo” Sanchez, beloved emergency room technician at Del Sol Medical Center, died from COVID-19 on Nov. 12 at age 74.
Bearing a signature walrus mustache, a knowing sparkle in his eye, and a playful attitude, coworkers described Jojo as “the kindest soul you could ever meet.” Nurses turned to him when they needed help, and sent him to calm down anxious and fearful patients — people felt safer in Jojo’s presence. As one former colleague put it, he was “everybody’s grandpa.”
“He’s been there for 27 years! You don’t hear about many employees staying at the same hospital for that long, let alone in an ER where it’s so stressful all the time,” said Barbara Joon, a nurse practitioner who worked with Jojo at Del Sol for six years.
“He’s watched doctors start their careers and leave. He’s probably watched some of the nurses become doctors,” she said.
Jojo loved kids and often had special treats on hand for when they came through the ER, Barbara said. He was fun and could be very silly; the younger staff loved to have him make guest appearances on their Snapchats, and he was always game.
But amid the laughter, he took his work seriously and was steadfastly committed, often working on the holidays so that other ER staff could be home with their families.
“Words don’t even describe how much he meant to that ER,” Barbara said.
A life-long health care worker
Jojo was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved with his family to the United States in 1955. He met his wife Rosa in El Paso, and they recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They had four children together, and adopted their granddaughter Selena, raising her from a young age. Jojo had six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Always the joker, Rosa said that Jojo used to tell people they met after she wandered across the Rio Grande barefoot. He would tenderly poke fun throughout their half century of marriage, pulling pranks and telling elaborate stories to entertain and delight his big family.
Before working in the emergency room, Jojo worked as a paramedic in Emergency Medical Services when it first began in El Paso in the 1970s.
His son Julio said ambulances were omnipresent throughout his childhood.
“When (Jojo) was in EMS, he took us on ambulance rides,” said his son Julio, who described how exciting it was for him and his siblings when their dad drove them in the ambulance to a UTEP football game.
“During Christmas, (our parents) gave us (toy) ambulance cars, me and my older brother, and we got upset, we threw a tantrum because they weren’t exactly like our Dad’s,” Julio said.
Julio went on to work in health care, as did several generations of Jojo’s descendents.
“He inspired me, my daughter Christina, and my niece Selena, to go into the medical field, because he was the first one in our family to do so. So you have three generations in the medical field,” Julio said.
Like his father, Julio has worked at the same hospital in Phoenix for several decades, and said that he is proud to have followed in his father’s footsteps. “He taught me that loyalty is one thing that you must have in your work,” Julio said.
Carlos “Charlie” Elorduy, Jojo’s son-in-law, is also a health care worker and worked alongside Jojo at Del Sol for over 20 years. He and Jojo’s daughter were elementary school sweethearts, so he has known Jojo for most of his life.
“He was my second father. He was always there for me, even at work,” he said.
Jojo was a nurturing figure for countless El Pasoans, not only in his family and at the hospital, but throughout the community. He started several sports teams for kids in the neighborhood, and led them with his brother. The teams were called “EMS Life Savers.”
Refusing to retire, despite a pandemic
Emergency medicine was Jojo’s passion, and he loved it, said his son Julio.
Even when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Jojo didn’t want to retire. Family members urged Jojo to retire, noting that he was at risk because of his age and underlying conditions.
“He goes, ‘No, I’m there to help out. I feel good — I want to continue to help people.’ and he did!” Julio said.
But Jojo and his wife Rosa ended up contracting COVID-19. His coworker Barbara said that while Jojo was sick, hospital coworkers would frequently visit his bedside to check on his status. “From a medical perspective, (the staff at Del Sol) went above and beyond,” to try to save him, she said.
Despite their efforts, his health declined, and after several weeks at the hospital he passed away. Rosa was also hospitalized with COVID-19, but is doing much better now.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear colleague and friend, Jose ‘Jojo’ Sanchez,” said David Shimp, chief executive officer of Del Sol Medical Center. “Jojo was part of our hospital family for many years, and we will miss him greatly.”
Julio said that one of the hardest parts for them was that no one from their family could be there with Jojo when he died.
“These are sad times, but beautiful memories,”Jojo’s wife Rosa said.
For Barbara, who organized a Gofundme on behalf of Jojo’s family, it’s important that he be remembered.
“He deserves recognition,” she said. “He should have had a great retirement party and finally got to sit at home. But now all we have are the memories and the pictures and the staff and the stories to remember him by.”
Julio thinks his dad would have preferred it this way, working until the end of his life. “I never saw any quit in him,” Julio said.
“He put his needs to the side and put everybody else’s needs first. Everybody came before him,” he said.