CHICAGO — Chicago’s beloved “Tamale Guy” got quite the send-off Thursday afternoon after he was discharged from the hospital following a long battle with COVID-19.
Claudio Velez received a standing ovation from dozens of nurses and medical staff at Rush University Medical Center who lined the hallway to say goodbye as he headed home after more than a month in the hospital.
“Chicago thank you so much; I love you so much, thank you,” Velez said.
Velez tested positive for the virus at the end of August, and his health quickly started to decline. He went to the ICU at Rush, where he was put on a ventilator.
“You see everybody going through it and you think, ‘wow that’s crazy, what’s going on’ but it isn’t until you actually experience it firsthand that you know the severity of the public health issue that it actually is,” his son Osmar Abad said.
Abad said it’s been a grueling five weeks at the hospital, but his family credits the community for helping them get through it.
“I had many restless nights and one-on-one conversations with my dad – we’re very close – and he always expressed how much strength he would get from just the amount of love that the community would give him,” Abad said.
A GoFundMe for Velez’s medical expenses raised more than $56,000 to date.
Velez became known as the “Tamale Guy” after years of visiting bars across the city, cooler in tow, to sell bags full of the traditional Mexican dish to patrons.
Abad said seeing how beloved his father was by the community, “sent chills down my spine.”
“It’s like I know my dad is very loved and popular here in the community, but I didn’t know it was to this extent; but it was amazing,” he said.
Velez is eager to get back in his restaurant, which opened thanks in part to an online fundraising campaign just weeks before he caught coronavirus.
His family says while he has to take it easy for now, he’ll likely be doing some taste-testing.
“I feel very happy to be going back home with my family and to start eating my favorite food again,” Velez said through a translator.