He was an athlete in the best shape of his life. So Covid-19 almost killed him

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And when he looked down, he couldn't recognize himself. Once a 215-pound athlete with chiseled muscles and amazing strength, the 40-year-old looked like a completely different person.

"I woke up and looked at my arms, my legs and my muscles were gone," he said. "I was a little scared, where are my legs? Where did my legs go?"

Ayyad is a coronavirus survivor.

Doctors placed him in an induced coma for 25 days to save his life.

A little over two months have passed since those days of playing and voila and he is still recovering. Still breathless sometimes. Still breastfeeding the damage to his lung and heart.

But it has a message: for those who refuse to wear a mask during this pandemic, for those who despise the public health guide, for those who are at the peak of their health and feel invincible against the coronavirus.

"I am very concerned to see people take this lightly," he told CNN on Tuesday. "I made it and survived, and I'm still terrified."

How it all began

It started with an overwhelming feeling of weakness.

One week Ayyad ran his own restaurant and club in Washington, DC, while working in his family's furniture retail business. He was competing in marathons and competing in obstacle courses, taking weekly basketball and boxing classes, one of his favorite sports.

The following week, his whole life had changed. Climbing the stairs left him exhausted. Like cooking, talking, and driving.

Then came the cough and the sneezing. Eventually it was a high fever, total loss of energy and appetite, and shortness of breath.

Ayyad thought he had the flu.

But after one of his friends, a medical assistant, urged him to go to the hospital, he brought an Uber to the Sibley Memorial Hospital on March 15. Their suspicions were confirmed; tested positive for influenza and coronavirus.

Help after waking up from a coma.

His condition continued to worsen. He was placed on a respirator and immediately transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he was placed in an induced coma.

Most coronavirus patients who are placed on ventilators are placed in an induced coma, as they are generally too uncomfortable to remain relaxed with a tube down their throats, making them feel unable to breathe.

Ayyad became the hospital's third Covid-19 patient and the first to be placed on a ventilator, John Hopkins said.
While doctors are unsure why the athlete was most at risk, especially in such good health and with no pre-existing conditions, "there could be factors" that are still not fully understood, Dr. Sandra Zaeh, who treated Ayyad in the hospital and continued to care for him after he returned home, he said in a hospital press release.

"It was extremely emotional," said Ayyad. "I knew I would be in this completely alone. Then I called my friend and told him to pick up my dog. And that was it. I didn't know what was coming. I didn't know if it was the last time. I would talk to them. I didn't know if I was going to about to die. "

What happened after

Ayyad does not know for sure when or where he was exposed to the virus. A week before she started showing symptoms, she took a 3-day trip to Florida to visit her brother. It could have been then.

Help after recovering from the coronavirus.

While lying in a hospital bed, his family members were tormented because they would lose him without even having a chance to say goodbye.

When his mother Zeinab Ayyad first saw her son after he was released, he burst into tears. She longed to hold her son in her arms. Instead, she was forced to stand far away on a street and watch him enter her apartment to quarantine alone.

Every three days, she cooked Palestinian meals for him: stuffed grape leaves, Molokhia, Maqluba – and did everything possible to "fatten him up", he joked.

"I had nightmares every night, I called the hospital at 3 a.m. just to make sure he was still alive," Zeinab told CNN.

How are things now

After almost a month without solid food, Ayyad clearly remembers the time when he returned to eating.

"It was apple sauce," he said. "I was so happy. That first bite, I felt very satisfying. Well, before I realized I forgot how to swallow. It's like I don't remember how to eat. I had to learn that again. But I won." Don't forget the applesauce. "

It wasn't just swallowing what the athlete had to learn again. He could neither speak nor walk. For the next three weeks, each movement took his breath away, raised his heart rate, and left him breathless.

But he was far from discouraged.

Every day Ayyad tried something new. He first started with leg extensions from his hospital bed using the blankets. Then there were the side lunges. Finally he got out of bed, squatting and walking round after round. He was determined.

Help 2 months after recovering from the virus.

After finally going home on April 22, Ayyad weighed 60 pounds less. He had a blood clot in his left arm, damage to his heart and lungs, and he spent the next month struggling to do something without losing his breath.

But every day, little by little, he was recovering his weight and muscles.

"He seems to be recovering very well," said Zaeh, the doctor.

"It was remarkable to go from seeing him at his worst in the ICU, intubated, deeply sedated and with his stomach to help him breathe, to see him at home. He was smiling and talking about how happy he was for a short time jogging and sitting outside with the sun on my face, "Zaeh said.

Ayyad is now almost back to normal. As he returns to boxing, exercises every day, plays basketball, and hopefully runs marathons soon enough, he's still worried about the virus.

"People are acting as if they are gone. They are not. Wear your mask. Do not meet in large groups. Take care of yourself and the people around you," Ayyad said.

"Take it seriously. It is not a joke. It can kill you, even if you think you are healthy and immune to it. You are not."

He knows. Hope that others don't have to figure it out the hard way.

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