He was an athlete in the best shape of his life. Then Covid-19 nearly killed him
And when he looked down, he couldn’t recognize himself. Once a 215-pound athlete with chiseled muscles and incredible strength, the 40-year-old looked like a completely different person.
“I woke up and watched my arms, legs and muscles were gone,” he said. “I was a little panicked, like where are my legs? Where have my legs gone?”
Ayyad is a coronavirus survivor.
The doctors had placed him in a provoked coma for 25 days to save his life.
It has been just over two months since these difficult days and he is still recovering. Always breathless sometimes. Always treat damage to his lungs and heart.
But he has a message – for those who refuse to wear a mask during this pandemic, for those who reject public health advice, for those who are in good health and feel invincible against the coronavirus.
“It worries me a lot that people take this lightly,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “I got it and I survived, and I’m still terrified.”
How it all began
It all started with an overwhelming feeling of weakness.
One week, Ayyad ran his own restaurant and club in Washington, DC, while working in his family’s retail furniture business. He ran marathons and competed in obstacle courses, taking weekly classes in basketball and boxing, one of his favorite sports.
The following week, his whole life had changed. Going up the stairs left him exhausted. Just like cooking, talking and driving.
Then come coughing and sneezing. In the end, it was a high fever, a total loss of energy and appetite, and difficulty breathing.
Ayyad thought he had the flu.
But after one of his friends, a medical assistant, invited him to the hospital, he took an Uber to the Sibley Memorial Hospital on March 15. Their suspicions have been confirmed; he tested positive for influenza and coronavirus.
Her condition continued to worsen. He was placed on a ventilator and immediately transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he was placed in an induced coma.
The majority of coronavirus patients who are placed on ventilators are placed in an induced coma because they are generally too uncomfortable to remain relaxed with a tube in the throat, which gives them the impression that they do not can’t breathe.
“It was extremely moving,” said Ayyad. “I knew I would be completely alone. Then I called my friend and told him to take my dog. And that was it. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if it was going to be the last time I was talking to them. I didn’t know if I was going to die. “
What happened next
Ayyad is not sure when or where he was exposed to the virus. A week before he started showing symptoms, he made a 3-day trip to Florida to visit his brother. It could have been then.
While he was lying on a hospital bed, his family members were tormented by losing him without even having a chance to say goodbye.
When her mother, Zeinab Ayyad, first laid eyes on her son after his release, she burst into tears. She aspired to hold her son in her arms. Instead, she was forced to stand far away on a street and watch him enter his apartment to quarantine himself in solitude.
Every three days, she cooked Palestinian meals for him – stuffed grape leaves, Molokhia, Maqluba – and did his best to “make it fat”, he joked.
“I had nightmares every night, calling the hospital at 3 am just to make sure he was still alive,” Zeinab told CNN.
How are things now
After almost a month without solid food, Ayyad clearly remembers when he was able to eat again.
“It was apple sauce,” he said. “I was so happy. This first bite was so satisfying. Well, before I realized that I had forgotten how to swallow. It was as if I did not remember how to eat. I had to relearn everything But I won’t forget the apple sauce. “
It was not only swallowing that the athlete had to start all over again. He could neither speak nor walk. For the next three weeks, each movement took his breath away, increasing his heart rate and leaving him breathless.
But he was far from discouraged.
Ayyad tried something new every day. First, he started with leg extensions from his hospital bed using the blankets. Then there were side slits. Finally, he got out of bed, squatting and walking round after round. He was determined.
After finally returning home on April 22, Ayyad was 60 pounds lighter. He had a blood clot in his left arm, heart and lung damage, and spent the next month struggling to do anything without losing his breath.
But every day, little by little, he regained his weight – and his muscles.
“He seems to be recovering well,” said doctor Zaeh.
“It was remarkable to go from seeing him in his most sick condition to the ICU – intubated, deeply sedated and on his stomach to help him breathe – to see him at home. He was smiling and talking about his joy in going for a short jog and sitting outside with the sun on his face, “said Zaeh.
Ayyad is now almost back to normal. Although he’s back in boxing, training every day, playing basketball and hopefully running marathons soon enough, he’s still concerned about the virus.
“People act like it’s gone. It’s not. Wear your mask. Don’t get together in large groups. Take care of yourself and the people around you,” said Ayyad.
“Take it seriously. It’s not a joke. It can kill you, even if you think you are healthy and immune to it. You are not.”
He knows. He hopes that others will not have to find out the hard way.