A California man says he feels lucky to be alive after he was hospitalized for more than two months following a bout with the novel coronavirus and had to have most of his fingers amputated.
Gregg Garfield, 54, from Studio City, fell ill after going on a ski trip with a group of friends in February to northern Italy.
His condition became worse and worse until it reached a point that he had to be admitted to the hospital and intubated.
Garfield was dubbed ‘Patient Zero’ of the medical center and was given just a one percent chance of survival.
After a long, arduous battle, including 31 days on a ventilator and 64 days in the hospital, Garfield was finally able to walk out and go home.
However, due to extensive tissue and muscle damage that had made his fingers go necrotic, a surgeon told him some of his fingers would have to be amputated.
Garfield tells DailyMail.com that he wants others to know that his situation is not a fluke and that what happened to him could happen to anybody.
Garfield and 12 friends went on a 12-day ski trip to Val Gardena, Italy – 120 miles away from Venice – from February 20 to March 1.
About five days into his trip, he came down with a low-grade fever, cough and fatigue, but he assumed he just had the common flu.
Around this time, the first Italian patient with COVID-19 was diagnosed on February 21 at Codogno Hospital, Lodi, in northern Italy.
‘[My girlfriend] AJ called me right around that time: “Are you aware of this thing called the coronavirus? It’s in northern Italy right now. Where are you?”‘ Garfield said.
‘And I said: “I’m in northern Italy.”‘
Around this time, there were only about 15 cases in the US. But Garfield wasn’t worried. He was outdoors, at a ski resort, and the town he was in was not conducive to a big party.
In fact, all 13 people on the trip ended up contracting COVID-19.
When Garfield landed, he quarantined himself at home. An ambulance crew in hazmat gear ended up taking him to the hospital, where he tested positive for the virus.
He was sent back home to quarantine for 14 days, but his condition worsened. He had a serious cough, fatigue and was unable to breathe properly. He also hadn’t eaten in a few days due to loss of appetite.
After a doctor friend made some calls, Garfield was admitted to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he became known as ‘Patient Zero’ because he was the first coronavirus patient admitted.
Garfield arrived on March 5 and was intubated two days later.
‘The last thing I remember was turning to look at my ICU nurse and I said to her: “I’m scared. I don’t want to die,”‘ Garfield said.
‘And she looked at me and said: “I promise you, you won’t.””
Garfield was on a ventilator for 31 days.
He had a number of health issues during his 64-day stay in the hospital including kidney failure that left him on 24-hour dialysis, a compromised liver, a pulmonary embolism, an MRSA infection and sepsis
After about the 12th day, doctors told AJ and Garfield’s sister, Stephanie, that blood circulation was not reaching his hands and toes, and that they were turning black.
He was also two days away from being put on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest.
Doctors gave him a one percent chance of surviving. But, luckily, he was extubated.
After a few days, Garfield was invited to rehabilitation on the fifth floor during which he learned how to chew again, swallow again, talk again and walk again.
‘My neurologist looked at me and said: “You’re a miracle. Medically, you shouldn’t be here,”‘ Garfield said.
‘I don’t think I would label it as anything except I kept positive vibes the whole time.’
Video captured a celebration after Garfield was discharged from the hospital.
Dozens of doctors, nurses and other staff are seen clapping and cheering as he is wheeled out, and even stands and walks at one point.
‘The celebration that they had for me was surreal. It was one of the most insane experiences of my life,’ he said.
Four weeks later, Garfield saw a hand surgeon, who determined that he needed to have amputations because the damage was too severe.
On the left hand, his fingers were removed from the mid-knuckle and just five percent of his thumb. On the right hand, the majority of his fingers were removed and just the tip of his thumb.
He will be going undergoing at least four more surgeries, to gain more dexterity in his thumbs and a longer appearance of the thumb.
Eventually, he plans to go ‘full bionic’ in terms of prosthetics for the right hand.
Garfield hopes his story convinces other people to take the pandemic seriously and that what happened to him could happen to others.
‘This virus is no joke. I had zero pre-existing conditions I ride mountain bikes, I golf, I race cars but, at the end of the day, this can happen to you,’ he said.
And mostly importantly, he says: ‘Wear a mask!’