NORTON, Ohio — In an emotional interview with News 5, Norton Fire Chief Mike Schultz opened up about his near-death experience with COVID-19 and his fears over potential long-term effects from the virus.
"I truly, truly was dying. I was out of fight and I was at peace with the fact that I was dying," Schultz said.
Schultz, 55, reflected on his dire situation Dec. 6 when his symptoms that included a cough and a fever went from bad to worse inside his home where he lives with his wife, Karla.
"My wife found me laying over the vanity in the bathroom and she said all I told her was to call 911. I was dying," he said.
Paramedics transported him to Cleveland Clinic Akron General where he was treated for a severe case of the coronavirus and double pneumonia.
Schultz recalled the fear he felt and difficult mental challenges he faced as a patient on the COVID floor.
"The COVID unit is a scary place. You're locked in a room 24/7 by yourself," he said. "It was total isolation, so not only are you sick, you're isolated."
The chief, who has led the Norton Fire Division since 1992, slowly made progress and gave high praise to the medical staff for getting him through the crisis.
"The people at Cleveland Clinic Akron General, they are amazing," he said. "They are watching people die every day from this."
Schultz returned home on Dec. 11, but doesn't feel anywhere close to being recovered. He's fatigued and still has trouble catching his breath.
"I have the lung capacity of a chipmunk I think at this point. It's horrible."
Schultz said prior to contracting the virus, he was healthy, ate well and went for runs on the towpath.
However, now he is dealing with a new health issue. The chief was not diabetic prior to his illness, but his blood sugar levels have been soaring. At one point, his number reached 500.
"I instantly became insulin dependent from COVID," he said.
Schultz said he worries about possible lingering problems with his breathing and blood sugar levels, unsure if he will eventually be diagnosed as diabetic.
"I'm really concerned about my lungs because of what I do for a living."
He hopes to return to the fire station and became emotional when discussing his fire family.
"Thirty-two brothers, I miss them every day. I want to go back. I want to go back and see my family."
Schultz suspects he caught the virus while transporting a positive patient. Norton paramedics have seen a rise in the number of coronavirus patients in the city in recent weeks.
"It seemed like two or three weeks before Thanksgiving, something changed. We were seeing more patients."
According to the chief, about a dozen Norton firefighters have tested positive for the virus during the pandemic. None got as sick as Schultz.
The chief, who has also documented his frightening experience on Facebook, said is wife tested positive for COVID-19 last week, but she is doing okay.
"I'm hoping that it doesn't go after her lungs like it did mine," he said.
Schultz said he will take the vaccine when given the chance, but hopes it doesn't give people false hope and cause them to stop wearing masks or take social distancing measures.
"I still think there are people that don't take this seriously," he said. "It is a big deal. This is real."