COVID-19 Survivor Writes Thank-You Note to 116 Medical Workers

Ralph Ellis

December 11, 2020

A New Yorker who spent a month in a coma with COVID-19 has written a thank-you note to 116 health care workers who helped him survive.

Jeff Gerson, 45, spent five months tracking down the names of all the doctors, nurses, therapists, and other medical personnel at NYU Langone Tisch Hospital who were involved in his treatment, CNN reported

"I just feel tremendously grateful and lucky," Gerson said. "The story, if there is one, is not necessarily that I survived, but that these people saved my life. I really felt the need to find them, get their names, and thank them."

Gerson arrived at the hospital March 18 with shortness of breath, a bad cough, and a high fever, CNN said. He was diagnosed with coronavirus the next day and put on a ventilator.

During those early days of the pandemic, doctors didn't know much about COVID-19, and the fatality rate was alarming, especially in New York. Gerson came out of the coma April 17 and was discharged a week later. Hospital employees gathered in the hallway to cheer as he went home.

"It was really a party and a celebration for the people in the hospital," Gerson said. "They were just ecstatic and so happy to be sending someone to rehab alive and with a good prognosis."

Gerson didn't meet many of the people who treated him while he was in a coma.

"Except for the nurses that I was directly interacting with, there really wasn't an opportunity to say thank you to anybody. It left a void in my emotional recovery," he told CNN. "Here I am having survived, I'm crying with joy every morning and I feel a huge debt of gratitude to these people who I can't even talk to because they're not coming into my room."

Gerson started his detective work. He collected names from the MyChart app, which shows who ordered the hundreds of tests he underwent; a nurse, who helped him get 60 names from a spreadsheet; and insurance reports that showed names connected with his claims.

He sent the letter in November to a hospital administrator, who passed it along to the staff.

"If you are receiving this letter, it is because I have become aware that you had a part in saving my life," Gerson wrote. "It is only after much effort on my part to find your names that I would realize just how many of you there were on my care team."

One of Gerson's ICU doctors was Luis Angel, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist. He told CNN that Gerson was kept alive through tracheostomies and a life support technique called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which takes over the function of the lungs and heart.

"You see the significant amount of work that he did and somebody that very likely was going to die in the hospital, makes a full recovery and then he's able to say thank you is very meaningful for us," Angel said.

One doctor who treated Gerson, Sydney Mehl, became sick with COVID-19 and died, Gerson said. He contacted Mehl's family to say thank you and donated to the doctor's memorial fund.

"It occurs to me that this doctor who gave his life fighting Covid, that I was one of the last patients, if not the last patient he treated," he said.

Sources:

CNN. “A Covid-19 survivor spent months tracking down the 116 health care workers who saved his life”
https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/09/health/covid-survivor-thanks-who-saved-him-trnd/index.html

American Thoracic Society. “What is ECMO?”
https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/what-is-ecmo.pdf

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