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Home News California’s COVID-19 patient zero who spent 64 days in hospital says he is ‘luckiest man alive’

California’s COVID-19 patient zero who spent 64 days in hospital says he is ‘luckiest man alive’

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California’s COVID-19 patient zero who spent 64 days in hospital says he is ‘luckiest man alive’

California’s COVID-19 ‘patient zero’ who spent 64 days in the hospital with a 1% chance of survival and lost part of his fingers after ski trip with friends in Italy calls himself ‘the luckiest man alive’

  • WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
  • Gregg Garfield, 53, caught coronavirus while on a ski trip with friends in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains in February
  • He landed in the hospital days after he returned home to Southern California
  • He was hooked up to a ventilator, where he remained for the next month
  • Doctors believed he had a 1% chance of survival as his condition deteriorated 
  • Now nine months later, Garfield is back home and preparing to hit the slopes again after making a miraculous recovery
  • He recounted his grueling experience in an interview with People this week, calling himself ‘the luckiest man alive’ 

One of California‘s first COVID-19 patients who was given a one percent chance of survival when he spent 64 days in the hospital last spring has opened up about his harrowing battle with the virus to convince others to take it seriously.   

Gregg Garfield, 53, became infected with coronavirus while on a ski trip with friends in Italy‘s Dolomite Mountains in February, as the pandemic exploded around the world.

He landed in the hospital days after he returned home to Southern California and was quickly hooked up to a ventilator, where he remained for the next month.  

At the time there were few proven remedies for the virus as doctors were just beginning to understand the toll it could take on the human body. 

As Garfield’s condition deteriorated, doctors feared they wouldn’t be able to save him.  

Now nine months later, Garfield is back home and preparing to hit the slopes again after making a miraculous recovery.  

He recounted his grueling experience in an interview with People this week, calling himself ‘the luckiest man alive’.

Gregg Garfield, one of California’s first COVID-19 patients who was given a one percent chance of survival when he spent 64 days in the hospital last spring, has opened up about his harrowing battle with the virus to convince others to take it seriously. Garfield is pictured in the hospital with his fiance A.J. Johnson

53, became infected with coronavirus while on a ski trip with friends in Italy's Dolomite Mountains in February, as the pandemic exploded around the world. A few days into the trip that changes, as everyone in the group (pictured) developed key signs of coronavirus

53, became infected with coronavirus while on a ski trip with friends in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains in February, as the pandemic exploded around the world. A few days into the trip that changes, as everyone in the group (pictured) developed key signs of coronavirus

Garfield and his 12 friends set off for their ski trip in Cortina d’Ampezzo when COVID-19 was just beginning to take hold in northern Italy, which would soon become one of the world’s worst hotspots.  

‘We were outdoors and skiing nearly all the time, so we didn’t think too much about it,’ he said of the virus. 

But a few days into the trip that changed as everyone in the group developed key signs of coronavirus: low-grade fevers, body aches, sore throats and congestion. 

For Garfield, a strong athlete who wasn’t used to being severely ill, the symptoms were crippling, forcing him to spend three days in his hotel room. 

He was still feeling bleak when he returned home to Southern California on March 1. Wary of the emerging outbreak, his doctor appealed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give Garfield one of its COVID-19 tests, which were in short supply at the time. 

Sure enough, the test came back positive. Four days later Garfield was desperate for help, telling his friend: ‘I can’t breathe. I’m gurgling in my lungs. I feel like death.’

On March 5 he checked into Providence St Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he was given the nickname ‘patient zero’. 

Within just two days Garfield’s oxygen levels plummeted and he was hooked up to a ventilator, where he would remain for the next month. 

Garfield said the last thing he remembered before being put under sedation was telling an ICU nurse decked out in a full hazmat suit: ‘I don’t want to die.’ 

On March 5 Garfield checked into Providence St Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he was given the nickname 'patient zero'. Within just two days his oxygen levels plummeted and he was hooked up to a ventilator, where he would remain for the next month

On March 5 Garfield checked into Providence St Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he was given the nickname ‘patient zero’. Within just two days his oxygen levels plummeted and he was hooked up to a ventilator, where he would remain for the next month

The virus launched a full-scale assault on Garfield's immune system, causing high fevers, perilously low blood pressure, a staph infection and sepsis throughout his body

The virus launched a full-scale assault on Garfield’s immune system, causing high fevers, perilously low blood pressure, a staph infection and sepsis throughout his body

The weeks that followed were traumatic for Garfield’s family, who watched from afar as doctors worked tirelessly to keep him alive.  

The virus launched a full-scale assault on Garfield’s immune system, causing high fevers, perilously low blood pressure, a staph infection and sepsis throughout his body. 

At his lowest point, Garfield’s doctors believed his chance of survival was just one percent – but they kept that prognosis to themselves.

‘His sister Stephanie and I were both staying as positive as we could,’ Garfield’s fiancée, A.J. Johnson, 47, told People.

‘But if we’d really known what his chances of survival were, I don’t know if we could have stayed that positive.’    

Against the odds Garfield slowly began to recover and was taken off the ventilator on April 2. 

By that time he had lost 50lbs and sections of eight of his fingers that were damaged beyond repair by poor blood circulation.  

Against the odds Garfield slowly began to recover and was taken off the ventilator on April 2. He is seen on a video call with loved ones from his hospital bed

Against the odds Garfield slowly began to recover and was taken off the ventilator on April 2. He is seen on a video call with loved ones from his hospital bed 

Garfield remained at the hospital for another month before finally being discharged on May 8.  

‘I felt like Rip Van Winkle,’ Garfield said of the day he walked out of Providence. 

‘I went to sleep for a month and awoke to a world where everything had changed.’ 

The physicians who treated Garfield were astonished by his rebound after fearing the worst.  

‘He was my miracle patient,’ Dr Daniel Dea, a pulmonologist and critical-care specialist who led Garfield’s treatment, told People.

‘Not only did he survive multi-organ failure, but he’s returned to near normal. That’s a miraculous thing.’ 

All of Garfield’s friends from the ski trip also survived, including five who were hospitalized.  

Garfield’s road to recovery continued after he left the hospital, and is ongoing to this day. 

In the last six months he has undergone seven surgeries to repair his fingers and toes and is still working to rebuild his lung function with daily exercise on the elliptical – with a goal of returning to the ski slopes in December.  

Garfield said he is grateful to know that his near-death experience with the virus has helped doctors in Southern California and around the country treat the thousands of patients that came after him.  

‘I’m honored to have been an early patient who gave my doctors and nurses on the front lines hope — and the will to achieve the unachievable,’ he said. 

He’s also doing his part to slow the spread of the virus by sharing his story to convince others to take the threat seriously, wear masks and social distance.  

Garfield is among the nearly 10.4 million Americans who have contracted coronavirus in the 10 months since it arrived on US soil. As of Thursday, more than 241,600 people have died.  

Garfield said he is grateful to know that his near-death experience with the virus has helped doctors in Southern California and around the country treat the thousands of patients that came after him

Garfield said he is grateful to know that his near-death experience with the virus has helped doctors in Southern California and around the country treat the thousands of patients that came after him

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