After three-year absence due to COVID complications, AJ Longoria returns to Beeville branch
Andrew Longoria has died twice in the past three years and suffered unimaginable heartbreak after losing his four-year-old son, Knox.
But the Beeville employee, who goes by AJ, has one of the strongest spirits you’ll ever encounter and a powerful force propelling him forward.
“I have my son Phoenix so I just keep going for him,” said AJ over Teams. “I know my other son’s up there watching me so that’s why I don’t really let anything get me down anymore. I mean I have my days, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve learned how to cope with it.”
AJ’s ordeal started in July 2020 when he got up to go to work and couldn’t taste or smell anything. As suspected, he had caught COVID. AJ went to a medical clinic and his oxygen level was around 80 per cent. The clinic told him to go to a hospital and things seemed to be going well, but the day before he was set to get out, things went south. Fast.
“That night that’s when everything started happening with the blood clots and everything,” recalls AJ. “I ended up coding twice. They told me the second time they were about to call it actually and just one of the other nurses said I was too young, and I had kids, so she tried one more time and it worked.”
AJ ended up being in the hospital for six months, some of that time spent in a coma, before being released. But he would be leaving the hospital without the use of his legs, having lost all strength in them due to his COVID complications. His long rehab journey was just beginning.
AJ Longoria sends a touching message during his extended hospital stay due to COVID-related complications.
“It was hard getting myself used to being in a wheelchair and being happy with it,” said AJ. “In the beginning it was hard of course because I was always used to going 100 miles per hour, but now I’m fine, I’m good.”
Six months after being discharged, AJ’s world would be rocked again, this time in a way that is hard to fathom or comprehend.
His marriage had broken down during his extended COVID-related hospital stay, and his now ex-wife was living with a new boyfriend.
“On Jun. 4, 2021, my son Knox passed away because she was letting her boyfriend hit my kids,” says AJ of his ex-wife. “That was a big struggle because if I wasn’t in this wheelchair that wouldn’t have happened, but I can’t blame myself for that. It was a trust you know between me and my ex-wife, and apparently I couldn’t trust her.”
Phoenix, left, and Knox Longoria.
AJ’s ex-wife, Bethany Bernal, and her boyfriend, Ezekiel Ramirez, were both arrested and charged in relation to Knox’s death. Ramirez faces a charge of capital murder while Bernal has been charged with injury to a child by omission.
According to the Nueces County Public Portal, Ramirez’s jury trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 22, 2024. Bernal will stand trial Feb. 26, 2024.
Knox Longoria was just 16 days shy of his fifth birthday when he died.
Amid all this, AJ drew strength from his surviving son, eight-year-old Phoenix.
“It’s just me and him, so getting him back, him kind of pushing me to get where I needed to be faster mentally, physically,” explains AJ. “”When I lost Knox, I got Phoenix that same day. From then on it was just ‘I got to transfer, I got to do this, I got to do that, I got to keep going’ so I can show him that even being in a wheelchair, nothing is going to stop you.”
AJ says his eight-year-old son Phoenix has been what’s propelled him forward over the past three years.
AJ’s determination recently culminated with him returning to work at our Beeville branch for the first time since that fateful June day when he woke up with no sense of smell or taste.
The former warehouse lead is now assisting our customer property department. During everything he went through, he says Stream-Flo made sure to keep tabs on him.
“The support has been amazing,” said AJ. “When I had a chance to talk with Mark (McNeill) real quick when he came by, I just told him thank you for everything. They (Stream-Flo) were definitely in my corner the whole time and never left.”
AJ says it’s been a good transition since returning, thanks in large part to his colleagues and the help they’ve provided, especially JD Flores.
The two live near one another and with AJ still not driving, JD gives him a lift to and from work every day. But AJ says the support JD provides goes much further beyond that.
“He helps me with a lot of stuff. If I need something or if my son gets sick or something, he’ll come help me out real quick. Pretty much with whatever I need, he’s there.”
Along with JD, Nathan Botello and Simon Delgado also help AJ with rides to and from work when JD is unable to. Further evidence of the strong family and team culture our Beeville branch possesses.
After spending so much time at home and removed from the real world, AJ says it’s been good to get his mind going again and be doing stuff he likes to do.
His rehab journey is still ongoing, with AJ gaining more strength in his legs each day. He can now move his right leg up and down and back and forth by itself and can move his toes on his left foot. He no longer needs leg braces anymore, and using a walker to stand up, can take a few steps and walk for a little bit before getting tired. Nothing crazy, he admits. But progress.
While he’s been tested more than most of us could ever imagine, AJ is acutely aware there are those out there who weren’t able to survive their battles with COVID like he did, with him explaining he lost two childhood friends to the disease.
“I’m very grateful to get a second chance because a lot of people didn’t get that chance.”
It’s a second chance he at first questioned, but now draws further purpose from.
“It was like ‘well why am I here?’…I didn’t get it. But with everything that happened with my son Knox, I got my other son Phoenix, so that’s why I was here. And that’s the way I look at it now.”
Phoenix by his side, AJ is determined to keep progressing. Keep moving forward. With one major accomplishment now checked off.
“I’m happy I’m back. That was always the goal.”