A COVID Survivor

James was on a trajectory that had become all too familiar, and it was not good. Due to an overwhelming number of cases in New York City, Samaritan’s Purse was battling COVID-19 in a tent hospital in Central Park. Available treatments were limited and were not well researched. Along with teams in the wards and step-down units, we had two ICU teams taking turns with 12-hour shifts. The night team I joined had some of the most competent and compassionate with whom I have had the privilege to work.

James had been referred to us from a nearby hospital, Mount Sinai Queens, after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and low oxygen levels. A 60-year-old former teacher from Queens without any medical issues, James went from being on minimal oxygen to gradually requiring more and more respiratory support. We put him on a CPAP mask requiring high pressures to keep his oxygen levels up. The night of April 20th, we transferred James to the ICU because it appeared he needed to be put on a ventilator. Somehow, after he was transferred, his breathing improved, and his oxygen levels increased. It was just long enough for him to video chat with his niece, Veronica, who became his spokesperson for the rest of the family. Little did we know, that was the last time Veronica would speak with her uncle for a very long time. Four hours after that phone call, James’s breathing started to slow and he was becoming drowsy, signs that his lungs were failing. There was no other choice but to put him on a ventilator.

As we were preparing to intubate James, one of our ICU nurses (Caryn) said unexpectedly, “God is going to work a miracle in James’s life.” At that moment, I did not know why she said that. She had never predicted a miracle for any other patient. When I asked her later why she said that, she replied, “I just have this feeling God is going to do something amazing in his life.” What James went through in the next 195 days is one of the most amazing recoveries I have encountered.

Our ICU night team. Caryn 2nd from the left.

The next day, James required the maximum amount of respiratory support we could provide. In the previous days, it had been difficult to transfer patients due to limited ICU beds. Fortunately, Mount Sinai Morningside had an ICU bed for James.

While at Mount Sinai Morningside, James remained on extremely high ventilator settings. He initially improved slightly and then began a gradual decline. At his lowest point, James was unconscious and suffering from multi-system organ failure of his kidneys, lungs, heart, and liver. Doctors at Morningside started discussing withdrawing life support as all his major body systems were deteriorating simultaneously.

Along with the rest of James’s family, Veronica refused to give up. From that low point, James somehow started to make slow progress. After three more months, he was transferred to rehab. James’s weight had plummeted from 160 to 90 pounds. He now had the formidable task of somehow gaining the strength to walk again.

James Colon. Picture thanks to Veronica Britez-Ward.

After over 6 months in the hospital, James Colon walked out of Mount Sinai Morningside Rehab to much fanfare. Our team at the tent hospital was just the start of James’s long journey with COVID-19. I cannot understate the amazing work done by Mount Sinai Morningside. The strength of James’s son, his niece, Veronica, and the rest of his family were also instrumental in his recovery. Truly though, in a time when thousands are dying daily from COVID, something remarkable happened to James. There were multiple times when James should have died.

Nurse Caryn’s intuition was spot on—God really did work a miracle in James’s life.

Cover Photo thanks to Samaritan’s Purse.


3 thoughts on “A COVID Survivor

  1. What an extraordinary story, Dr. Matt! Thank you for your role in helping James heal. I think often of the NYC DART ICU team and your dedication to the patients.

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  2. I remember Mr Colon. Thank you for the update. Yes, we often wonder what has happened to our patients. One patient I wonder about from time to time is Mohamed. He was able to give me a thumbs up when I said good bye to him.

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