CLEVELAND — As we now know, racial and ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. That was one strike against Victor Young of Cleveland. But he also underwent massive open-heart surgery just a few months before getting COVID-19, and he is a cancer survivor. The risk markers were stacked against him.
Still, he survived, and he did so at a time when the odds were the toughest.
Young was among the first Clevelanders to be hospitalized with COVID-19 at the beginning of the outbreak. He was put on a ventilator to help him breathe. COVID-19 nearly killed the 64-year-old.
"I do realize, given this journey, in human terms, I shouldn't be here," said Young. "I mean, I was that sick."
In early March, Young's wife, Marguerite, was among the first confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Ohio. The couple believes she got it while traveling in Detroit.
Despite their best efforts to quarantine, Young became sick, too. While his wife recovered at home, Young's symptoms were more severe.
One night he was rushed away in an ambulance, unable to breathe or say goodbye to his wife of 21 years.
"I didn't see him for 14 more days," Marguerite Young said. "It was dark. It was darkness. That's what I tell everybody. It was the darkest time."
Victor Young was put into a medically-induced coma at Cleveland Clinic-Marymount Hospital and placed on a ventilator to keep him alive. He says he felt no pain but remembers it feeling like a horror movie.
"You're mentally aware that you're trapped, and you feel like you're trapped inside of you, and so my brain was working full-blown, but nothing else was," recalled Young.
He could hear, though, and says the voices of his doctors, nurses and specialists constantly talking to him were a saving grace.
"Even though I'm totally non-responsive, they would talk, and I can't tell you how much that mattered," Young said. "It broke up isolation."
Young says he never felt alone despite being unable to have family by his side due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"The level of deep empathy was palpable," Young said. "It was overwhelming. I would just say, 'Thank you!' I don't know how you say thank you for caring so deeply because they just did!"
Young was on the ventilator for 12 days. He lost 25 pounds and has worked tirelessly to regain his strength and life.
"I am an incrementalist," he said. "I am the ultimate incrementalist. So, I actually believe that there's nothing I can't do if I do it slowly and consistently."
Dr. Debasis Sahoo is Young's pulmonologist. He says Young never lost hope that he would heal and credits a change in diet, exercise and never missing a day of physical or pulmonary rehabilitation.
"Any patient that you see recover to the extent like Vic has recovered makes you feel proud of what you are doing," said Sahoo. "It gives you the energy to sustain working harder to care for these sick patients."
Young was one of the Cleveland Clinic’s first coronavirus patients to make it off a ventilator alive.
Sahoo says when the pandemic started, the learning curve was huge, and Young was among the early coronavirus patients who've helped create care plans to improve survival outcomes today.
"We've learned a lot on managing with medications, managing how to use the ventilator right, and that experience has taught us and helped us heal these patients better," said Dr. Sahoo.
A near-death experience put things into perspective for the COVID-19 survivor.
"My worldview is the same, but my sense of urgency has been ratcheted up," said Young. "Sort of a feeling that the time I have been given, I need to make sure it is used to help make this place better."
Faith was the couple's cornerstone before the pandemic, and they say surviving the unthinkable has only made their foundation unshakable.
"I am just thankful for him," said Marguerite Young. "My life was better the moment I met him and that's just true. So, I'm just so thankful that it was God's will for him to still be here."
"Me, too," said Victor Young. "I'm thankful for that, too!"
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