PHOENIX, Ariz. (CNN) – An Arizona doctor has recovered from a near-fatal bout with coronavirus after he spent 55-days in the hospital.
“I started coming down with symptoms…just chills and a cough and Saturday that kind of progressed into shortness of breath,” said Dr. Karl Viddal, doctor who survived COVID-19.
That was late March and even though 46-year-old Karl Viddal is a family medicine doctor, he still wasn’t too worried at first when he returned from a trip feeling sick.
“We thought that he really had contracted some sort of strange virus,” said Dr. Ross Bremner, executive director, dignity health St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute.
Dr. Bremner is a surgeon and the executive director of St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
“He was a perfectly healthy guy and, you know, in a very short period of time he became deathly ill,” said Dr. Bremner.
That sudden decline, it’s something we have heard about over and over again. X-rays of lungs that go from looking like one from a normal healthy person to looking like one from a very sick person.
Dr. Viddal managed to FaceTime his family right before he had a breathing tube placed.
“You were sedated obviously through this, but at some point sounds like that wasn’t enough,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent.
“The ventilator settings were maxed out. They decided that they would go ahead and do ECMO on me,” Dr. Viddal.
ECMO, or Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, but think of it as an artificial lung. A last resort when the lungs are just too stiff, too sick to work. The blood is pumped away from the body.
“It runs through a circuit — that circuit oxygenates the blood and removes carbon dioxide, and then returns that to the right atrium of the heart. It allowed my lungs to rest and heal, and then oxygenate my body and essentially, saved my life,” said Dr. Viddal.
“You think you wouldn’t have survived without it?” asked Dr. Gupta.
“Absolutely not,” said Dr. Viddal.
“About half of the patients who go on ECMO for COVID-19 don’t survive. He certainly had many brushes with death,” said Dr. Ross Bremner.
Because here’s the thing: the process of removing all blood from the body increases both your risk for clotting, as well as your risk for bleeding.
“He basically saturated his left lung with blood. He subsequently had some significant bleeding from his airway as well,” said Dr. Bremner.
As you might imagine, none of this has been easy for him.
He spent 55 days in the hospital and lost 55 pounds of weight.
“Two weeks ago, I couldn’t give you a thumbs up. Now I’m walking,” said Dr. Viddal.
“My strength is coming back slowly but surely. Yeah, if I walk up a couple sets of stairs, I do compensate a little bit and I’m huffing and puffing. So it’s gonna take a long time to get that reserve back,” said Arizona doctor who survived COVID-19.
“Just the fact that managed to get back home and be surrounded by family and friends…You know, I’m doing well just looking forward to making hopefully a full recovery,” said Dr. Viddal.