A “true COVID survivor.” That’s what 61-year-old James Colon’s doctors call him after being hospitalized for more than six months battling the coronavirus.
“It whacked me April 12. That’s when my whole world fell apart,” the retired school teacher and nursing home worker said.
He doesn’t remember much of his battle because he was in an induced coma for more than three months after he was taken by ambulance to Mount Sinai Queens because he had trouble breathing.
Colon spent a week at the Central Park field hospital, where he was diagnosed with COVID-pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, and a bacterial superinfection.
“I’m surprised I made it, I’m not downplaying it, I know they did their best, but it’s not the ideal place to be when you’re in the situation I was in. It was more like a holding pattern,” he said.
Colon was moved to Mount Sinai Morningside and placed on a ventilator in the ICU. For the next two months, he would decline.
He suffered cardiac shock and required dialysis.
When his older sister, Edith Baldassarre, was able to visit, Colon didn’t know she was there.
“He was out, I even told him, 'Jimmy,' we call him Jimmy, 'you know what, it’s OK to let go, it’s OK to let go,” Baldassarre said.
Instead, Colon kept fighting for weeks until he surprised everyone when he woke up in late July.
It was at that moment his family says he turned the corner, but his battle was far from over.
Colon couldn’t move his arms and legs. His muscles were too atrophied to support him.
He had wasted away from 160 pounds to just 90. Colon says that’s when his survival became a mental exercise.
“To keep myself from losing my sanity, I went through all my life from as far back as I can remember up to the present when I was in bed, and tried to appreciate everything that I had,” he said.
Motivated by the love of his family, including 15-year-old son, Julian, and his niece, Veronica, Colon started physical therapy in September with the goal to one day walk again.
“I told him it was going to be a long shot,” said Dr. Yamilette Burgos, a rehabilitation medicine doctor at Mount Sinai. “It’s going to be a marathon, it’s not going to be a sprint.”
By roughly six weeks later, with constant help from the rehabilitative providers, Colon says he progressed from sitting up in bed to walking with a walker several hundred feet.
When he was released from the hospital on October 25 after 195 days in the hospital, he walked by himself, aided by a rollator.
“I personally believe life for me will get back to the way it was before,” Colon said. He continues recovery at Baldassarre’s house, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I may need a little oxygen, but I’m going to be able to walk on the beach, walk through the park, spend time with family and friends, and be able to just enjoy the present of being alive,” he said.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Dr. Yamilette Burgos. It’s spelled Burgos not Borgos.