COVID-19 survivor who had most of his fingers amputated: ‘This can happen to you’

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LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — A man who spent 64 days in a Southern California hospital while being treated for COVID-19 is sharing his story as a warning for others to take the virus seriously – after he suffered severe complications, including the amputation of most of his fingers.

Gregg Garfield and a dozen of his friends contracted the novel coronavirus while on a ski trip in Italy in February, before the pandemic had really taken hold in the U.S.

Garfield’s case proved to be the worst of the group, and he was hospitalized at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center – becoming the first COVID-19 patient there. Within 48 hours of his arrival, Garfield’s condition deteriorated significantly and he was placed on a ventilator.

Doctors gave him a 1% chance of survival.

“Medically speaking, I should not be here,” Garfield told KTLA on Friday.

He ticked off a long list of complications he suffered as a consequence of the respiratory illness: “from MRSA, to sepsis, to kidney failure, to liver failure, pulmonary embolisms, burst lungs — four of them.”

Garfield spent a total of 64 days in the hospital, including 31 days on a ventilator. For COVID-19 patients placed on ventilators, the mortality rate is at least 70%, according to Dr. Daniel Dea at Providence St. Joseph.

But Garfield pulled through and was released in early May after a remarkable recovery.

“I’m here today just to stand tall,” he said. “I turned around with 100% capacity on everything from my kidneys, my liver, my cognitive.” 

On May 8, the day Garfield went home, Dea said his near-full recovery was “amazing.”

Garfield will bear some lifelong scars from the illness, having undergone the amputation of fingers on both hands – the only challenge he has physically, he said.

“I’ve survived this. I’m doing fantastic. However, take heed on this. My hands,” he said, lifting the bandaged appendages, “are never going to be the same. I don’t have fingers anymore. This can happen to you.” 

Garfield had all fingers on his right hand amputated and most of his left hand’s fingers removed.

His surgeon, Dr. David Kulber of Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said the amputations are a result of how the virus impacts patients’ blood flow.

“COVID has effects on the endovascular blood stream, so it actually affects the blood flow,” Kulber said. “That’s why some young people have had strokes, and that’s why anticoagulation — putting patients on blood thinners — now has been a standard cure for COVID patients.” 

The process to reconstruct Garfield’s fingers will involve at least six operations. Surgeons will have to create prosthetics for his fingers, helping them to function “like a bionic hand,” Kulber said.

The medical cost for those procedures will be on top of the $2 million hospital bill for his two-month stay, though most of that was covered by insurance. Moving forward, his prosthetics won’t be covered.

GoFundMe account set up nearly three months ago has raised more than $200,000 to help Garfield with his medical costs.

As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Southern California and around the U.S., Garfield and his girlfriend, A.J. Johnson, have a message for people when it comes to taking the virus seriously and wearing masks.

“It should not be political,” Johnson said. “We need to come together as humans.” 

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