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First COVID-19 patient at Johns Hopkins Hospital who needed ventilator determined to get stronger

Posted at 1:21 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 10:02:44-04

BALTIMORE — So far, more than 500 coronavirus patients have been discharged from Johns Hopkins Hospital.

At the peak of the pandemic, there were about 125 patients, a third of them in critical condition. Now, there are about 50-60, however still a third in critical condition.

"It’s been hopeful that cases are going down but we still have a lot of really ill people here," said Dr. Natalie West, Pulmonary and Critical Care Physician at Hopkins.

She's been treating COVID-19 patients since the beginning of the outbreak. She said it's been tough since it's a new virus and patients are constantly having highs and lows but she feels Hopkins was prepared.

After Ebola, Hopkins created a bio containment unit, one of only a handful in the nation, which really spearheaded the way they handled this pandemic.

Dr. West helped the first coronavirus patients. 40-year-old Ahmad Ayyad was one of them.

"He is a very athletic fit individual and he’s young and so my first thought was wow if this can happen to him and he can be this sick, this can happen to anyway. It really opened my eyes," said Dr. West.

Ayyad was the third COVID-19 patient admitted into Hopkins, the first who needed a ventilator. He lives in D.C. and never expected to be in Baltimore.

Ayyad is a very active person, always pushing himself to the limit. So when he started feeling sick in mid-March, he thought he just overworked his body.

He went to a D.C. hospital after a few days of not feeling well, thinking he was just going to get some medicine and head home.

"The next thing you know they put me in a coma and put me on a ventilator and I wake up the next day, I’m in Baltimore at Hopkins," said Ayyad.

He had the coronavirus.

"You’re thinking it’s an over-hyped flu and I’m not gonna get it," said Ayyad.

He added, "being as active as I was I didn’t think I would get something like that. Normally I don’t get sick."

He then spent 25 days in a coma at Hopkins.

Dr. West said most coronavirus patients who are on the ventilator have to be sedated since they have such intense fevers and experience constant highs and lows.

"What we’ve found with COVID is they’re requiring so much more sedation. Way more than what we’re used to, two to three times as much. We don’t quite understand that so I think it’s contributing to how long they have to be on the ventilator because we can’t keep them comfortable enough," said Dr. West.

She added, "we're trying our best to support people through it until their fevers go away and just hope there’s no permanent damage to the lungs or kidneys and go home."

Since there are no visitors allowed in the hospital, family members are updated daily.

"I think that was the toughest thing, what my family went through. Getting calls saying your son may not make it through the night," said Ayyad.

He said his dad has a strong faith and new he was going to make it through but it was very touch and go.

When Ayyad woke up, he was a different person.

"I was basically paralyzed, I couldn’t move. All my muscles were gone," said Ayyad.

He lost 60 pounds while he was in the coma. Doctors move your body so you get some activity but nothing compares to doing it on your own. He was shocked with how frail and skinny he looked.

The next step was therapy, lots of therapy.

He said, "speech therapy because I couldn’t talk. Social therapy, she had to teach me how to swallow and physical therapy to wake up my body. To get me to the edge of the bed. I had shortness of breath because my lungs were damaged, my heart was damaged."

Ayyad said he was huffing and puffing like he just sprinted a football field when he just got to the edge of the bed. As hard as it was, he pushed himself and his therapists every day.

"No, let’s walk again. Can I walk without the walker? Let me hold your hand. Let’s do more. Are you tired? No, I’m not tired! Even though I was out of breath. My heart rate was up. Let’s do it again. I was just determined," said Ayyad.

His determination paid off. He continued to make progress and once he tested negative for the coronavirus, he was able to go home and do therapy on his own.

He said, "when I got home started to increase my walking. It was hard because I would get tired really quick. I have to take a bath, a shower, go upstairs, get my food. All those little actions I would lose my breath and get tired."

Soon those walks turned to jogging and jogging into running then running into lifting.

Now, he's back up 50 pounds and has only been out of the hospital for two months. Doctors said it would take eight months to make a full recovery, he has other plans.

"By September I should be back to normal. That's three months," said Ayyad.

He has a check up next month, to see how his heart and lungs are doing and to see if he still has a blood clot in his arm. If the blood clot is gone, he can get off blood thinners.

In the meantime, he's just going to keep working.

"I got through it and I’m gonna move on with my life. It’s not gonna be something I forget but I’m gonna be proud of myself knowing I recovered and back to normal. Ultimate goal, get my body to where it was knowing it’s finally over," said Ayyad.

While he works on getting back to normal, Dr. West is worried about another increase in cases.

"We do think there will be another spike, that does scare me because there are some models that predict there could be more cases than we ever had. I worry about all hospitals in our area," said Dr. West.

She's asking everyone to not let down. To continue to social distance, wear your mask and wash your hands.

She added, "we can all do our part to help prevent the spike. It’s of utmost importance."