CHICAGO (WLS) -- The so-called "Tamale Guy," Claudio Velez, has been released from a Chicago hospital after a five-week battle with COVID-19.
After leaving the hospital, Velez said he was looking forward to a homemade meal.
While he's known for his delicious tamales, he had a different Mexican dish on his mind for dinner as he left Rush University Medical Center Thursday afternoon.
"Enchiladas!" chuckled Velez, who's known for selling tamales out of his red cooler at bars on Chicago's North Side. His sister, relatives say, is known for her wonderful, homemade enchiladas.
Velez was released Thursday after being hospitalized for five weeks, three of them on a ventilator, relatives said.
Thousand of people have been cheering him on, and offering financial donations through two different GoFundMe pages.
"He would always express how much strength he would get from the amount of love the community would give him," said Osmar Abad, Velez's son. "On behalf of the entire family, we would like to thank everybody."
Velez will use an oxygen machine for at least a month now, his son said. Although his lungs are weak, his heart - his love for Chicago - is stronger than ever.
"Chicago, thank you so much," Velez said at a news conference. "I love you so much. Thank you."
The family is grateful after a journey that started at the beginning of the pandemic. Velez depended on selling his tamales at bars from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., but his business dried up when everything shut down.
In May, a GoFundMe page raised more than $36,000, and helped Velez launch a restaurant - The Tamale Guy Chicago - in Ukrainian Village. It opened on Chicago Avenue in August, but then Velez got COVID-19.
"I was on the verge of death. I had a 50/50 chance of surviving," Velez said.
The restaurant closed. The staff at Rush University Medical Center became family. One nurse even prayed with him
"God has control over everything," said Velez, a rosary hanging around his neck. "Thank God, and thank the doctors that they were able to save me."
The tamale restaurant on Chicago Avenue is open again. Velez said he hopes to be back to work in 15 days.
A second GoFundMe page has raised nearly $57,000 to help pay medical bills.
"I love you! I love you, Chicago," Velez repeated. "Everyone who is here and gave me the support, thank you so much for loving me the way that you do."