A COVID-19 Patient's Experience from Near Death to Recovery

Daniela Doncel
April 24, 2020 - 3:35 pm

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTIC Radio) - For one COVID-19 survivor, recovery almost seemed impossible at one point after spending several weeks on a ventilator and nearly dying.

When Jay Bialkowski, 54, of Glastonbury first developed COVID-19 symptoms, namely a fever and a cough, he was tested, but he was "reasonably well" and had gone home, according to Dr. Sam Pope, Hartford Hospital's Medical Intensive Care Unit Director.

However, conditions turned to the worst when Bialkowski arrived to the emergency room at Hartford Hospital on March 25.

Within a short amount of time, Bialkowski needed intensive care with 100 percent oxygen through a ventilator and later breathing assistance via intubation, Pope said. 

According to Pope, the critical care staff began prone positioning as a treatment for him which involves putting the patient onto his stomach to help with his oxygen intake.

However, even with treatment and medication, Bialkowski was still gravely ill. By March 30, Bialkowski had to be paralyzed in order to maintain his oxygen levels, according to Pope.

It was at this point, Pope said, that the medical staff reached out to Bialkowski's wife to talk about end-of-life decisions.

With patience and continued treatment, however, medical professionals saw improvement in Bialkowski's health, according to the medical director at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, Dr. Megan Panico.

Bialkowski was successfully extubated on April 10, but Panico said there was fear and concern that day since he wasn't moving, and it was unclear if he would be able to after being paralyzed for a long time.

However, after a few more days, Bialkowski woke up and started to move. He was transferred to Gaylord Specialty Healthcare for his recovery. After another week or so, he was able to walk almost completely on his own.

"He's gone from someone who could barely move a muscle that could barely squeeze my hand the day we extubated him to walking around with a walker to now walking independently and going home very soon," Panico said.

To the healthcare workers who helped him, Bialkowski said, "Thank you so much for basically saving my life. You never gave up, and I appreciate that."

According to Panico, Bialkowski now serves as inspiration for medical staff members to tell other COVID-19 patients that they can recover.

Close to tears, Panico told Bialkowski, "You have changed the game for all of us. You have given us hope. I think that we now know that people can get better and I think that's going to change it for us, so thank you."