On April 10, 2020, Paulo Santos shifted the aisle from his Manalapan, New Jersey home, relying heavily on a walker. The distance was only a few meters. It was like climbing Mount Everest.
“I couldn’t stand for more than 30 seconds at a time without my legs collapsing from the weakness,” he recalls.
Santos had just been released from hospital, where a near-fatal case of COVID-19 forced him to be on a ventilator for two weeks. He had lost 45 pounds. When he took off his shirt, his 11-year-old wife was stunned.
“He was so skinny,” said Christine Santos, “he had excess skin that was hanging down.
Desperate for a new start, Paulo wanted to shave his head. He couldn’t muster the strength.
“I helped him,” Christine said. “I tried not to cry while doing it.”
So began a long road back, which included a post-COVID heart attack. On Saturday, exactly 12 months after his release, the 40-year-old turned the page once and for all with a remarkable feat. He traveled the 20 miles of the CentraState Health System from Freehold Township, where he initially checked in last March, to the University of Neptune Medical Center in Jersey Shore, where he was transferred in a desperate attempt to do so. keep alive.
He ran to raise money for the doctors and nurses who saved him, and most of all to say thank you. The exploit took just under five hours. Staff from each hospital gathered at the start and finish lines, holding signs and applauding.
“It was mind-blowing to see the staff there.” Said Paulo. “It was all pretty wild.”
The race left him sore legs but excited in spirit.
“This is the ultimate closure of a nightmare,” said Christine Santos.
Hallucinations and “ turn to gray ”
Santos, vice president of a commercial real estate company and father of two children aged 9 and 3, believes he contracted COVID in the first week of March 2020. He hosted a networking event at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, in a Seton Hall-Villanova College Basketball Game in which 16,000 people participated. Then he went to Washington, DC, and came back by train. On the return trip, Amtrak said it would suspend all additional service due to the burgeoning pandemic.
A fever set in a few days later. On March 17, Paulo began to hallucinate.
“He was turning gray,” Christine Santos said.
A nurse in a dialysis clinic, Christine drove Paulo to CentraState. Although COVID tests took three days to show results, x-rays revealed double pneumonia and with his oxygen levels dropping, doctors diagnosed him on sight.
On March 23, as the pandemic erupted in New Jersey hospitals, Santos stopped breathing and was placed on a ventilator.
The last thing he remembers, he said, was “people screaming in the background.”
Because the hospital was closed to guests, Christine Santos was on FaceTime with Paulo when this happened.
“The next thing I knew her iPad was facing the ceiling,” she says. “I called the nurses station and I was like, ‘I think he dropped his iPad.’ They said, “No, we’re intubating him right now.”
“I slowly collapsed to the ground,” she said.
How he was saved
While Santos was on life support, doctors made the crucial decision to transfer him to the University of Jersey Shore Medical Center, which had obtained approval to use the drug Remdesivir on COVID patients. Dr Eric Costanzo, director of intensive care services at Jersey Shore, had assembled a team “lying down” to take care of the intubated patients. Lying on your stomach – on your stomach with your arms positioned above your shoulders – maximizes the oxygen supply to the ailing lungs. The problem: In the long run, this position causes nerve damage.
The recumbent team consists of a respiratory therapist and five attendants to ensure that patients are not lying in the same position for too long.
“We have extubated 170 seriously ill COVID cases,” Costanzo said. “We haven’t had any negative comments on the nervous issues.”
Santos woke up from his coma on April 7, his 39th birthday. Unsurprisingly disoriented, he spotted balloons in a corner of his room, thanks to his wife, and was greeted by a therapist who wished him a happy birthday.
He tried to answer.
“Then I realized I couldn’t speak,” he says.
Doctors suggested rehabilitation for inpatients, but Paulo couldn’t stand the time of Christine and their children, Ava and Paulo Jr.
“I told them, ‘Give me a walker and send me home,’ he said.
Three days later, he mapped out the driveway.
No more excuses
Santos finished the New York Marathon in 2006, but his bald knees convinced him to stop running. In mid-May, feeling that he needed to supplement the rehabilitation regimen the physiotherapists had offered him, he decided to go jogging.
“I knew my lungs needed help,” he says. “At first it was, can I go down the stairs?” Can I go down to the aisle, to the mailbox? Can I get to the end of the block? “
After a month, Paulo reached the end of the block.
“I know the science, but when the patient has the will it makes science work better,” Costanzo said. “He deserves immense credit for setting foot on the ground and making progress.”
Nothing comes easily after a severe case of COVID. In September, Santos felt “a beat” in his heart. A year earlier, he would have blown it. Now, with his guard up, he’s been checked out. The verdict: heart attack caused by a blood clot – likely a post-COVID complication.
Undeterred, Santos continued to run. Eventually he drove the three miles from his home to CentraState.
“The last time I was there was in an ambulance,” he said. “The appreciation, the fear, the sadness – it all kind of came back. I thought, ‘I have to find a way to make it better and thank everyone.’ “
Hence the 20 mile race, carried out mostly along secondary roads. An accompanying GoFundMe campaign has raised approximately $ 12,000 to date, more than double the original goal.
“Every life saved is touching,” said Costanzo. “When the patient is able to give back and do something amazing, it’s so emotional. Living through our first pandemic, when you get (a gesture) of this magnitude – running close to a marathon to recreate the journey that saved her life – I can’t think of a more meaningful and powerful way to say thank you. To me that means everything.
For Santos, this means a new chapter. His recovery is complete.
“Every time someone said I was a survivor and was recovering, it was an excuse not to push me harder,” he said. “I don’t want to be that person anymore. I hated being that person.
Paulo Santos hopes his run will inspire others who have beaten COVID.
“It’s time for us to be thrivers, not survivors,” he said. “That’s what our doctors and nurses would prefer.”
To help raise funds for Paulo Santos, visit www.gofundme.com/f/thank-you-to-our-covid19-heroes.
Jerry Carino is a community columnist for Asbury Park Press, focusing on interesting people from the Jersey Shore, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]