Gay man shares his boyfriend’s near-death coronavirus experience with a stark warning: ‘Everyone should be terrified’
A gay man who watched his partner struggle through coronavirus has shared his story with the warning: “Everyone should be terrified.”
Brian Zupanic lives in New York City with his partner of ten years, John Giarratano, a freelance TV producer.
Aged 42 and with no pre-existing health conditions, Giarratano didn’t think he was at serious risk of coronavirus. When he developed a fever on March 6 he and Zupanic assumed it was something else.
“There was no cough. No laboured breathing,” Zupanick told PIX11.
Three days later Giarratano’s temperature had risen to 102°F (38°C) and they began to worry, but as he still had no breathing problems they followed the medical protocol and stayed away from ER.
However his symptoms rapidly deteriorated, and on March 12 the couple went to urgent care. Later that afternoon he developed a cough and his breathing became laboured.
“The next day, he called me to say, ‘I’m really scared. I can’t breathe at all,'” Zupanick told People.
“The hospital soon went into lockdown and no visitors were allowed anymore. By that point, John was getting worse. His breathing became really laboured. It just moved so quickly.
“He called me. He was trying to talk, but he was so out of breath, he couldn’t even say the words. He just said, ‘Can’t breathe. The heart doctor’s here, ICU too.’ And then he hung up.”
Giarratano was taken to Mt Sinai Hospital and tested for coronavirus on March 13, a week after his fever began, but delays in the testing process meant that they wouldn’t see the results for days.
While they waited, Giarratano’s condition worsened. The following day he was struggling to maintain oxygen in his blood and was intubated and put on a ventilator to help him breathe.
“The infection started to encompass the lungs,” Zupanick said. “After intubation, the infection got even worse. It moves very quickly.”
Giarratano was being treated with antivirals at this point, and without a firm diagnosis of COVID-19 he couldn’t be put on any stronger medicine. But the test results still had yet to show, and Zupanick later tracked down his partner’s sample to another lab in North Carolina.
“We were running out of options waiting for this test, and his health was getting worse,” said Zupanick.
“I called the lab again and I was like, ‘What is going on with this test? My partner is going to die waiting for it. He cannot start treatment without a positive result.’
“They said they might have the results by March 20 or 21; I said, ‘He’s going to be dead’ and hung up.”
In desperation Zupanick resorted to emailing the president of Mt Sinai Hospital, who thankfully heard his pleas and had the test expedited. It finally came back on March 19, three days late – and it was positive.
Giarratano was rapidly treated with Remdesivir, a new antiviral drug originally developed as a treatment for Ebola. His condition remained critical but eventually stabilised.
As of yesterday his health had improved enough for him to be taken off the ventilator, but doctors are continuing to monitor him and he has a long road to recovery ahead.
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Zupanick is now spreading the warning that coronavirus “should be taken seriously and everyone should be terrified”.
“People also don’t think about the fact that all of these family members, like me, can’t even see their loved ones,” he said.
“That fact alone can make it extremely stressful, and you add everything else on top of that, it’s truly a nightmare. I’m going over two weeks of not being by his side through all of this, and now he’s awake and I still can’t see him.”
The couple face crippling medical bills of at least $10,000 to cover Giarratano’s ICU treatment and have set up a a GoFundMe page for donations. As of publication, they have raised $18,621 of their $150,000 target.