Unvaccinated COVID-19 intensive care patient urges others to get the shot

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 4:19 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - From his ICU bed at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, a Fairfax man is urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

59-year-old Joe Smith started noticing symptoms last month during an annual family trip to northern Minnesota. He said it started with fatigue, headaches, and loss of taste and smell. The family cut the trip short, as Smith tested positive shortly after he arrived home.

“Then it just kept getting worse, where I couldn’t breathe,” Smith said.

Doctors admitted him to the ICU at Mercy on August 5.

“I knew I was struggling, but I just thought they would give you some medicine and away you go,” Smith said. “But it doesn’t work that way. It takes over your body.”

Earlier this week, he said he was scared for his life.

“[I] couldn’t breathe, so they had to keep forcing oxygen into me with a mask,” Smith said, who still struggles to catch his breath. “You get to the point you don’t know how you’re gonna make it.”

Dr. Hassan Sajjad, the medical ICU director at Mercy, said Smith was on the verge of intubation and needing a ventilator.

“We were all really concerned about him, but we are glad he pulled through and did not require mechanical ventilation,” Sajjad said.

Sajjad said increasing hospitalizations for COVID-19 have forced Mercy to open a new COVID unit.

“I think we’re seeing a younger population of patients. Mostly our patients are unvaccinated,” Sajjad said.

That includes Smith, who said most of his family is also unvaccinated.

“My wife tested positive, my grandkids that were with us got sick; they brought it home to their parents,” Smith said.

A family friend also tested positive, but had been vaccinated and had mild symptoms. Smith had the most severe case and regrets not getting the vaccine.

“You hear some negative things about it too, side effects and stuff. I just never weighed the two together. Like a lot of other people, you think it’s going to miss you,” Smith said. “After this experience, I want to reach out to encourage people to get the shot. If not for yourself, do it for your family.”

Sajjad said an increasing number of his patients are similar to Smith.

“I think we have seen that in many patients who are regretting their decision that they didn’t get vaccination earlier. Some have asked if they can get vaccination in the hospital, but unfortunately, once you’re in the hospital, once you have COVID active infection, then it’s all supportive care,” Sajjad said.

Sajjad not only has concerns about rising cases and hospitalizations, but also worries about staff burnout as more people require care.

Smith doesn’t know how long he’ll be in the hospital but anticipates a long stay based on how he feels. He said he’s grateful for the care he’s received and continues to think positive.

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