29-year-old shares story of coronavirus recovery after spending 4 days in the ICU

Updated: Apr. 8, 2020 at 11:41 AM EDT
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ATLANTA (WIS) - Data from the CDC shows certain people, including those older than 65 and those with underlying health conditions like chronic lung disease, heart disease, or immune disorders are more at risk for serious health issues if they get COVID-19.

However, in recent weeks, leading infectious disease doctors, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said the virus is puzzling in the way it seems to have more serious and life-threatening impacts on some people, regardless of age or pre-existing conditions.

Lequawn James, an Orangeburg native, said he knows first hand that COVID-19 can also cause serious health complications for those who are young and don’t have pre-existing health conditions.

The ER nurse had to be hospitalized and was admitted to the ICU for four days, fighting for his life after growing sick from the virus.

James said he starts and finishes most his days at the gym, with fitness and wellness being an important part of his daily life. He said that at 29 years old with no pre-existing conditions, he never expected to be hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19.

“I was just distraught, and I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” James said.

James said he first got sick on March 6 with a runny nose, but he said with no cough, fever or shortness of breath. He thought it was just a cold or allergies.

But that all changed a week later.

“I don’t know what happened but all the sudden I was having body aches, tremors, like you could have two quilts on me and I was still cold,” James said.

The next morning he checked in at Emery St. Joseph hospital in Atlanta, where he normally is helping patients of his own in the ER, and was soon diagnosed with COVID-19 and pneumonia in both lungs.

He said over the next few days his oxygen levels grew worse and his heart enlarged. At that point, his doctor told him he would be admitted to the ICU and he would be intubated.

“Once he told me that I completely broke down, because as a fellow ER nurse you know what intubation is and what’s going to happen and the possible things that can go wrong,” James said.

He said one of the worst parts was having to go through it without any family or friends.

“For that to happen to you and be alone, it was very depressing,” James said.

Eric James, Lequawn’s father, said he drove from Orangeburg to Atlanta to see Lequawn through the ICU window, but once he got there, he was told visitors were no longer allowed to stand at the window.

“I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be or how bad it was or none of that stuff -- so it was scary,” Eric James said.

After four days in the ICU and a total of 10 days in the hospital, James’ lungs and heart grew stronger, and he was able to go home.

“Just as in fitness, how everyone’s body responds to a diet a certain way, a workout a certain way, this virus is the same case," James said. “You have no idea how your body is going to respond to this virus and I had no idea this was going to happen to me.”

One of the nation’s leading infectious disease doctors, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said COVID-19 is unusual in the way some people recover quickly while others have severe health complications.

“I don’t think it’s only if you’re elderly or if you have underlying conditions," Fauci said. “I think there is something else going on there that hopefully we will ultimately figure out.”

The chair of internal medicine here at Prisma Health, Dr. Helmut Albrecht, said doctors are currently exploring the role genetics plays in how a patient is able to fight off the virus.

“There will be genetic patterns, for instance the receptor this virus combines to -- we know there are certain people that have much more or much less of these receptors, which will affect how they will deal with this illness,” Albrecht said.

James is now at home recovering, and urges everyone to take the virus seriously, regardless of age. He said people should take every precaution to protect themselves and the people around them.

CDC data found that 20% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 are between the ages of 20 to 44.

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