Jeffrey Gerson recalls little about the four weeks he spent on life support in the intensive care unit (ICU) after he fell critically ill with COVID-19. But he made sure his army of care providers knew how grateful he was for saving him. Here, he recounts his story.
First Signs of COVID-19
I came down with a 103-degree fever and chills on March 13, 2020, the same day the president declared the novel coronavirus disease outbreak a national emergency. Five days later, I became short of breath and developed a nasty cough. My internist, Edward S. Barnes, MD, sent me to the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Emergency Services at NYU Langone Health. A chest X-ray revealed that I had pneumonia, and my COVID-19 test was positive. I was placed on high-flow oxygen and admitted to the ICU.
The next evening, with my blood oxygen levels dropping to dangerously low levels, a critical care nurse said, “We need to intubate you—is that OK?” I couldn’t believe it. I was 44 and in perfect health. I biked the Central Park loop four times a week. “Are you sure you want to use a ventilator on me?” I asked. “Why don’t you make sure everybody else who really needs one gets it.”
Waking Up After ECMO
The next thing I remember is waking up four weeks later, on April 17. A bedside nurse’s face lit up when I opened my eyes. She asked if I knew where I was (I did) and what I’d been through (I didn’t). During the next week, as I recovered, I found out: When my condition stagnated, I was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, and given a percutaneous tracheostomy, a surgically created opening in the windpipe that helps reduce the level of sedation required. Few hospitals at the time were implementing either of these aggressive therapies for patients with COVID-19. Later, I developed a bacterial infection and was treated with antibiotics. Finally, after 21 days, my lungs had recovered sufficiently to safely disconnect me from the life support circuit.
I lost 25 pounds during the ordeal, but physical therapists and occupational therapists at Rusk Rehabilitation helped me regain my strength, first in the ICU and then at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital. I returned to my Upper East Side apartment on May 2 and resumed my career as an investor in startup companies. By June, I was completing 12-mile bike rides.
Following Up with His Care Team
At follow-up appointments with pulmonologist Rany Condos, MD, who directs NYU Langone’s Post-COVID Care Program, I was thrilled to learn that I had negligible lung scarring. Above all, I was grateful to the doctors, nurses, therapists, and others who had taken care of me—most of whom I’d never met. I wanted to thank each of them. So I got busy, reaching out to nurse manager Maureen Lohan-Mullens, NP, to gather staff names. I searched my NYU Langone Health MyChart account and scoured insurance statements for additional providers. Finally, I composed a 3-page letter to 165 clinicians.
“Not only have I come to learn the sheer size of my care team,” I wrote, “but that the care I received was tremendously innovative and cutting-edge.… I remember researching ECMO from my bed in the ICU and learning that the Food and Drug Administration had not officially approved it for COVID-19 treatment until two weeks after I was placed on it.” I added, “My life is as full and complete as my recovery, and I have each of you to thank for that.”
I don’t believe in the kinds of miracles where people walk on water, but I do believe in the confluence of small events leading to amazing outcomes. I am also convinced of this: The fact that I ended up at NYU Langone is miraculous.