(CNN)The first thing Rosaura Quinteros noticed was his fear.
The man lay alone in his pressurized room at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando. He had a severe case of Covid-19, and it looked like he was losing the battle.
A Catholic priest came to administer last rites. The patient, Jason Denney, said goodbye to his family via FaceTime.
But Quinteros, a hospital housekeeper, urged Denney not to lose hope.
She told him his life was in good hands, both the doctors' and God's. She said God was not done with Denney and encouraged him to keep fighting.
As the coronavirus pandemic has forced hospitals to impose strict restrictions on visitors and clergy, the work of people like Quinteros has become even more important, say health care experts.
They don't just keep the rooms clean of harmful germs. Many also try to lighten the mood with smiles or jokes, provide encouragement when patients lose hope and offer an attentive ear when patients need to process their emotions.
And so it was that a housekeeper from Guatemala and a retired Air Force colonel met in a hospital room in Florida. And slowly, one began to heal the other.
"I don't think she realized at the time what she was doing for me," Denney told CNN in recent interview. "She was saving my life."
The colonel and the housekeeper
Denney, 52, was born in England to an American father and Scottish mother. After 22 years in the Air Force and two deployments, he recently took a job with a defense contractor.
Quinteros was born in Pasaco, a small city in southern Guatamala, where her father was a farmer. The 33-year-old moved to the United States about 15 years ago, and is married with two children.
She was a hotel housekeeper for years before joining the hospital staff seven months ago.
When Covid-19 patients began to arrive at Dr. Phillips, Melinda Plumley, the chaplain manager, realized her staff would not be able to do their job as usual. Fears of contagion made it impossible to hold the face-to-face conversations that can help patients process difficult emotions.
So Plumley turned to the housekeepers and other staff members who visit patients' rooms each day.
"We put together some material of easy, open-ended questions for staff to get the patient talking," she