Carmelo Saia says he has a whole new outlook on life just weeks after COVID-19 nearly took his life while battling the deadly virus in the Intensive Care Unit.
Saia is still recovering from his bout with coronavirus, but he’s back in his Grasmere home and now believes he’s living proof that it’s not an automatic death sentence when you contract the disease.
Acknowledging that approximately only 20 percent of people who go on ventilators, as he did, survive, he believes his life was saved after giving a doctor the thumbs up to use the experimental drug hydroxychoroquine after it appeared he was out of other options.
“People need to see some positive things, not just all the negative stuff you see on the news,” said Saia on Monday, which is exactly two weeks after he was discharged from Staten Island University Hospital’s Ocean Breeze campus after he did a complete 180. “You can make it, no matter how (bleak) your situation is.
“I’m 100 percent proof.”
According to Saia, his initial experience at SIUH North wasn’t a good one after an ambulance brought him there on March 25.
“I thought they dropped the ball the first time,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe and I had a temperature. They took a chest X-ray and diagnosed me with inflammation of the lungs and sent me home without antibiotics and eventually, things got worse.
“That’s the only thing I got upset about.”
Unfortunately, Saia was rushed back to the hospital just two days later when he started gasping for air. Technicians took another chest X-ray and he not only discovered he had double pneumonia, but also learned he was positive for the coronavirus.
The 46-year-old was admitted into what he called SIUH North’s “4B Unit” and said the care he received from the nurses and Patient Care Assistants (PCA) was second to none.
“I was in there for a total of 12 days,” he said. “The nurses and PCAs were absolutely amazing. They were there anytime I needed them and honestly, the way they did their jobs was an inspiration.”
But just the same, early in his visit, things started to look bleak. He still couldn’t breathe to the point where he needed a nurse.
“I hit the little red button and she came in and got a doctor. He put a stethoscope on my side and I heard him tell the nurse to ‘call the anesthesiologist and respiratory therapist,’’ said Saia, noting he was not put on a ventilator yet. “That’s when I thought i was going to die. I can’t put it into words — it crossed my mind that I wasn’t going to make it.”
Now in complete respiratory failure, a doctor asked Saia if he wanted to try hydroxychoroquine, the anti-malarial drug that is sometimes given to COVID-19 patients. A desperate Saia agreed to take it and was also give Zithromax (Z-pack).
Eventually, Saia’s oxygen levels began to improve and he was taken off the ventilator.
“I couldn’t breathe, so I did what I had to and that included taking the hydroxychoroquine,” said the father of sons 14 and 11-years-old. “(The hydroxychoroquine) definitely kept me alive and I think anybody with the virus should take the drug. It helped me.”
Saia, a construction worker for most of his life that is employed by Gemstar Construction, was discharged from the hospital on April 6 and recently felt good enough to take a stroll on the South Beach boardwalk.
His experience has changed him for the better.
“The disease was really taxing on my body, but I’m home and, considering what I went through, I feel great,” he said. “I feel like I got a second chance in life and there’s no reason why others can’t overcome this virus too.”
Saia had one piece of advice for everyone, whether they had COVID-19 or not.
“Simply put, don’t sweat the small stuff,” he said. “My outlook on life has changed and I’m not going to worry about small things any longer.”