Chesterfield dad survives COVID-19: 'It was an excruciatingly painful experience'

Posted at 12:04 AM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 08:11:55-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A Chesterfield father of two is home and out of quarantine, nearly one month after contracting COVID-19, a virus that nearly claimed his life.

Thomas Bryan, 50, said doctors and nurses in the Intensive Care Unit at Johnston Willis Hospital were able to save his life, despite delayed testing that prevented treatment for days.

“There’s no question that what they did saved my life,” Bryan said. “In moments of despair, when I thought I was done, knowing that my family would not know what happened and what I was going through, was a very difficult thing to reconcile as I was fighting for my life.”

It was a business trip to San Francisco in early March, that Bryan said he unknowingly contracted the COVID-19 virus.

He said he took several precautions, including wearing a mask and gloves while traveling, but ended up in a California emergency room soon after getting a high fever.

“They never ended up doing a Coronavirus test on me,” Bryan said. “The time that was lost because they did not do that, ended up being pretty critical.”

By the time Bryan flew home to Richmond on March 15, his health had rapidly declined. One day later, he was admitted to Johnston Willis with a high temperature and double pneumonia.

The hospital immediately tested Bryan for COVID-19, but test results took eight days to confirm.

In the meantime, the pneumonia left Bryan gasping between breaths, even though doctors were working tirelessly to ease his respiratory problems. Bryan was told he might not open his eyes again, if doctors were left with no choice but to place him on a ventilator.

“[The pneumonia] made it really difficult to breathe, to think, to move and it was just a drowning, suffocating and excruciatingly painful experience,” Bryan said.

When tests finally revealed a COVID-19 diagnosis, doctors began administering Hydroxychloroquine in an attempt to save Bryan’s life.

“There was one night, in particular that all my vitals went down rapidly,” Bryan said. “I just faded out and I figured if I woke up from this, it would be a miracle.”

Fourteen hours later, Bryan woke up and was told by doctors that they believed he had survived the worst. Within days, he started to regain his strength. However, even after being released from the hospital in early April, Bryan had to remain in isolation for two weeks, away from family and friends.

“The real joy and homecoming for me was this past weekend, when they lifted me from quarantine and told me I was no longer contagious and I could finally be around the people I love and care so much about and that was incredible, really incredible,” Bryan said.

Bryan said he’s been in contact with specialists from the University of Virginia and hopes to take part in upcoming clinical trials that will use plasma from his blood to create antibodies to the COVID-19 virus. He says his ordeal will have been worth it, if he can save the lives of others.

“I see this beautiful Virginia spring weather…I see life and hope around me and it makes me really think about the things that are most important.”