COVID miracles: 3 healthy patients who nearly died from COVID-19 speak out

The COVID-19 pandemic was a story of profound tragedy - for the families and loved ones of the deceased and for the millions who were sick and hospitalized.
From day one, the medical and scientific communities have sought to understand the disease and use therapeutics and ultimately vaccines to fight and end the pandemic.
What has been less visible in many cases is the life that doctors and other medical personnel have saved - sometimes in dramatic ways, and in some cases over many months.
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ABC News spoke to three COVID-19 patients who were on the verge of death and who miraculously survived despite the odds.
They walked us through what it was like to contract the virus and the difficulties they faced in their recovery.
Scott Krakower, 40, Long Island, New York
PHOTO: Scott Krakower, 40, of Long Island, New York, had a severe virus case in the spring of 2020 that kept him away from solid foods for several months. (Abc news)
In April 2020, Krakower, the head of the mental health department at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, had the chills so bad that he had to jump in the shower to warm up. Little did he know at the time that he was witnessing the outbreak of the deadly virus that swept the world.
Krakower didn't realize he might have symptoms of COVID-19 until 19 days later when he lost his sense of taste and smell.
"I kept eating and hoping and praying it would taste good," he told ABC News. "... and then it only gradually went away completely."
Days after the positive test, Krakower began antibiotic treatment as a preventive measure in case he developed a sinus infection. But by the second week his condition "went dramatically" and got worse, he said.
Of all the treatments that doctors tried, prednisone, vitamin C, and a few others, "nothing worked," he said. Krakower lost his voice completely, had chronic pain in his throat, and developed a dry cough that was so severe that he described it as a "loud, barking cough". His mucus turned bloody and he knew he had developed an infection in his throat.
At one point, Krakower said his throat was so swollen that he started choking on his food, including liquids, which prompted loved ones to take him to the emergency room.
He was pale, emaciated and breathless and had been in and out of the emergency room for weeks. He then traveled to Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The emergency room was busy with several people coming in with critical cases when Lenox Hill Emergency Doctor Dr. Robert Glatter, who saw Krakower for the first time, Glatter told ABC News.
At this point, New York City had not yet peaked in COVID-19 patients as it became the epicenter for the spread of the virus in the United States. Glatter recalled that Krakower's first concern was patients who were sicker than he was, but Glatter had to remind him that in his condition, too, he urgently needed treatment.
"When I saw him, I knew he needed treatment right away," he said, adding that he knew there was a possibility that he might need a ventilator later if he doesn't get the right treatment.
There were no approved treatments for COVID-19 at the time, Glatter said, but he did start giving the steroid dexamethasone via an IV, which is anti-inflammatory and can help regulate the effects of the immune system. In a UK study last year, dexamethasone was found to reduce the number of deaths in critically ill patients.
Within the first hour, Krakower's vital signs and oxygen levels improved and he regained some of his ability to speak. But his journey to recovery was far from over. Krakower experienced what Glatter called the virus's inflammatory effects.
He was released a few days later and was able to go home, where he was isolated in a single room from his wife and two children, who were 2 and 6 months old at the time.
Rehabilitation was intense, he recalled. He was weak and had to practice walking again - coming down the stairs without clinging to the railing was difficult. He still could not speak and did not eat solid foods for about two and a half months because his throat was swollen well into July. A home nurse came to help him twice a week, and his wife brought him his meals and medicines. He faceted his children so they can still see him.
Despite all this, Krakower kept thinking that he would be better, he said. When he started eating solid foods again - with that first bite of pizza in August - he felt like an appearance of himself again, he said.
Krakower said he felt "much better" now and was blessed for all of the help he received during his illness. He still coughs sometimes, but it's "nothing" compared to before. He's also grateful that he never had to use a ventilator.
"I think if I hadn't had such good people in my life and in my family ... I would have been in a different shape than I am now," he said.
Curtis Sims, 58, Lawton, Oklahoma
PHOTO: Curtis Sims is pictured with his wife Suzanne Sims as he is recovering in the hospital. (Courtesy of the Sims family)
Curtis Sims, a service manager at Great Plains Kubota, a tractor dealer in Duncan, Oklahoma, tested positive for the first time on October 19, but didn't feel the effects of COVID-19 until Halloween, he told ABC News.
Sims initially thought he was dealing with a cold in his chest and told his boss that he was expected to be back to work in a few days after the quarantine period ended. But the symptoms worsened drastically and Sims said it was difficult to breathe.
When Sims' wife Suzanne Sims dropped him off at the Comanche County Memorial Hospital that day, he thought he would be going home later that day. But his condition continued to deteriorate. The last thing he remembered was a nurse sitting with him that night as he underwent a sedation.
Sims remained in a medically-induced coma through December. He was put on a ventilator on November 15.
Lacey Anderson, an intensive care nurse at Comanche County Memorial Hospital, told ABC News the first time she saw Sims that his whole body was swollen - likely because his kidney or other organs were malfunctioning and therefore unable to function were to flush out the fluids and other medications that were given to them, she said.
Anderson, who took care of Sims for three days, wasn't sure his treatment would make it through. On the fourth day, he was flown from the small hospital to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
Anderson was desperate that she couldn't offer Sims' wife good news when she visited him that day.
"I just kept thinking ... 'Please God let him get through this. Let him be able to get on that flight to get to OU today," she said.
While at OU, Sims' family was called to the hospital for a possible goodbye. Sims had stated in his "Do Not Resuscitate" order that he would only be resuscitated twice and had coded that many times, he said.
When Sims woke up, "everything was foggy," he said. It was difficult to keep calm and get enough air out to speak. He didn't have his phone or glasses. When the medical staff asked him questions, he answered as best he could.
"I was basically just guessing and hoping I'd get better," he said.
It wasn't until a few days later, when he came to, that he began to ask questions. He didn't know how much time had passed - that he had missed his birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and his father's funeral. He didn't know he was in Oklahoma City.
"When you wake up and have missed so much time, it is difficult to go back," he said. "I mean, you just can't. You don't know how to fill in those parts of your day ... in your head. It's just all empty."
In mid-January, the Sims felt better and were released to a rehabilitation center on January 28th. He needed therapy to learn to swallow again. The first solid meal he ate was lasagna, and the first thing he had in his sights when he got home on February 12th was his deck chair.
The first time Sims visited Anderson at the Comanche County Memorial Hospital, he was unrecognizable, she said. Sims' case was a breath of fresh air amid all the devastation medical staff have been exposed to over the past year.
"It brought tears to my eyes," she said. "I was just so excited because ... we don't see that often at all. And it was just so motivating for me."
If Sims could go back, he would change his posture to wearing a mask. He believes he caught the virus at work, where he believed that wearing one and them not could make customers uneasy, he said. At the time, Oklahoma did not have a mask mandate.
"Just wear a mask," he said. "It is so easy."
He said he was "feeling much better" now. "It's been some pretty dark days there for a while."
Lisa Martin, 50, Blackshear, Georgia
PHOTO: Lisa Martin is pictured with her husband Jeff Martin on New Years Day 2021, the day after she was discharged from the hospital. (Courtesy Jeff Martin)
Lisa Martin initially tested negative for COVID-19 in September, but felt the result might not be right, she told ABC News. Her husband Jeff Martin, a small business owner in South Georgia, caught the virus and she didn't think she could have escaped it.
"My husband and I sleep in the same bed and share the same bathroom," said Martin. "Every now and then I might use his toothbrush and we're just together the whole time."
Martin's addiction turned out to be true on September 27th as he began to show severe symptoms of the virus. Breathing and coughing were painful, and she had "raging" fever and chills. The only time she felt any kind of relief was getting in and out of the shower and to break her fever she plunged into her garden pool - but it didn't work.
"I said to my husband, you have to take me to the doctor, otherwise I'll die," said Martin.
Little did she know when Martin came to Memorial Satilla Health in Waycross, Georgia that it would be more than three months before she would go home.
She was so sick that she was given fluids through an IV within 20 minutes. After that, she "completely wiped out" the next 90 days, she said. She was put on a ventilator and later taken to Memorial Health in Savannah.
Martin had been intubated for about a week when Dr. Roberto Lopez Vega, an internist at Memorial Satilla Health, started taking care of her. At the time, it needed a lot of oxygen - the highest the machine would ever get.
Lopez was concerned about Martin's prognosis. The longer someone works on a ventilator, the higher the chance something else will happen, like kidney or liver failure, he said. When it came time to transfer Martin, she was so unstable that it became too risky to unplug her from one ventilator and plug it into another. You had to wait for it to stabilize and eventually relocate it.
PHOTO: Lisa Martin, 50, of Blackshear, Georgia, was placed on a ventilator and coma for months after being diagnosed in September 2020. (Courtesy Jeff Martin)
And then, despite the high oxygen settings on the machine, its oxygen level began to drop - constantly and for several hours.
"That day was the day I thought she was leaving," said Lopez.
But over the next few days their numbers began to improve. She didn't need that much oxygen and was getting better every day, Lopez said. Even so, the medical staff knew that Martin had a long way to go. She was very sick, especially her lungs, Lopez said.
After Martin woke up, she remembers being "amazed" at how unconscious she was for three months. She was also relieved because she had several terrible hallucinations while being soothed, including one in which her son died in a bus accident.
"I was so relieved to wake up from the hallucinations that I was glad to be alive," she said.
The same goes for the doctors and nurses who took care of her. Some of them told Martin how wonderful it is that she is still alive today.
Martin missed Thanksgiving, Christmas and many birthdays, but the mother of four was released on New Year's Eve and spent the holidays with her family.
She's still in rehab, where the first thing she spoke again was before moving on to eating and occupational therapy, including basic tasks like getting dressed. She can't wait for the day when she can drive again and regain her independence.
Martin's taste and smell are still impaired - everything tastes bad, she said. She has lost all of her hair, her lower lip and little finger are paralyzed, and her hands are numb. Her toes have no feel and she has little stamina. Walking to and from the bathroom is exhausting, she said.
Martin admitted that she felt guilty for survival. She still feels surreal and shocked when she thinks about what she's been through, she said.
"To this day, my kids fill in details that I just have no idea occurred to, and I just get so sad and tearful for what they went through," said Martin.
Healthcare workers are exhausted
The men and women who care for the patients who contract COVID-19 have been at the forefront of the pandemic for more than a year.
But it's cases like this that they say keep it going.
The Comanche County Memorial Hospital where Anderson works is small and very few nurses work per shift, she said. A week before she treated Sims, five patients crashed at the same time.
"And bringing down so many people at once was just overwhelming," said Anderson. "... I think we all went home in tears."
Anderson described the difficulties and exhaustion she and her colleagues go through on a daily basis. She remembers doing everything for Sims including playing Adele's music after his wife mentioned he liked it.
"It's a great blessing to see Curtis and talk to him about what was going on because the motivation for us nurses is really diminishing," said Anderson.
Martin said that some of the health care workers who looked after her get emotional when they see how well she is doing, stressing that most patients in similar conditions do not.
"They would talk about how much time, energy, and effort they put into their patients and their pain. Their patients die," she said. "so it's refreshing to see someone who survived."
The past year has been "stressful" and "devastating" for everyone in the medical field, from doctors to patients, Lopez said.
The more common result is the opposite of Martins, where the patient can't get away with it, Lopez said.
"We all want such cases to multiply and have many, many more," he said. "But unfortunately they are very rare."
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