Jared Diamond’s return to his San Antonio, Texas home, wife and three children seemed impossible back in the spring when he was hospitalized with COVID-19.
“I don’t remember a lot before they intubated me, putting me on the ventilator. I just remember telling my cousin, whatever you do, make sure the employees stay paid,” Diamond, 52, told TODAY in San Antonio.
His business, National Outdoors, is an army surplus store that his grandparents started in 1922 that he and his family still run 98 years later.
In March, about a week after he returned home from a family trip visiting colleges for his daughter Abigail, he started to feel ill.
“I was very lethargic. I started getting a little bit of a cough. And I was feverish. I had about 101 temperature,” he recalled.
After learning he didn’t have the flu, he was advised by his physician to quarantine for a few days, but his conditions worsened two days later.
“I went to the doctor’s office, stayed in my car in the parking lot and called them, and my doctor said, you probably have COVID, sure sounds like it,” Diamond said.
His wife Robin and daughter Abigail remember when he first learned of contracting the virus.
“So, he drove himself to the hospital and isolated himself from my whole family and distanced himself from everyone,” Robin, 51, told NBC News.
“He thought he had a sore throat, and of course, he was short of breath. He felt horrible. So, they gave him a test, and then he actually texted, and he said he was tested positive for COVID, and since this was all new, it was the very beginning of March, we did not know what to expect,” she explained.
Jared said he was hospitalized at Stone Oak Methodist Hospital as his condition continued to worsen and required a longer hospital stay.
“And eventually, he had to go on a ventilator. And what was the most difficult thing is that the doctors kept calling and saying he was doing worse and worse, you know, and that his lungs weren’t getting better, which was so scary,” Robin said.
Jared’s hospital care took its toll on the Diamond family as they waited to hear of any signs of him getting better.
“I’m not a crier, but I cried every day when he was in the hospital and on a ventilator,” she said.
His daughter Abigail recalled waiting patiently by the phone every day for any calls about his health.
“It took a huge toll on my family and was most definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” Abigail, 17, said.
His wife Robin said their rabbi called on the day Jared was put on a ventilator and suggested a prayer service to make a difference.
“I was never one for prayer. But, you know, the prayer circle worked, because people just kept saying they were praying and praying and praying. And one day, the doctor called, they thought that COVID was going to his heart and they said, take it back. He’s a fighter, he’s getting better,” Robin said.
Eventually, Robin said her husband no longer needed the ventilator and it was removed.
“I remember everything from when I was extubated,” Jared said. “I remember the nurses were really, really caring and, you know, people say that, but they truly are heroes and they’re healers — the doctors were amazing, very attentive.”
What recovery from COVID-19 has looked like
Recovery from severe cases of COVID-19 can sometimes take longer than a month and may result in symptoms even after the infection, according to medical expert Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at The Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore, Maryland.
“It doesn’t seem to be something that afflicts the majority of patients who have COVID-19, but there are a number of patients who unfortunately are reporting a variety of long-term effects after this disease,” Maragakis said. "I think most people who acquire the SARS CoV-2 should expect an uncomplicated recovery. However, we know that some patients continue to have a variety of symptoms after the disease. And this can be everything from weeks and months of debilitating fatigue, to muscle aches and joint aches, to more serious things like cardiovascular or heart involvement from either the direct effects of the virus itself on the heart muscle, or from the immune response to the virus itself, causing damage and inflammation in the heart and in other organs."
Since his return home in April, Jared said he’s dealt with some of these issues, like fatigue and heart problems. He continued doing physical therapy as he had done in the hospital and said he reached a point where he no longer needed supplemental oxygen. Each day, he would walk farther and farther from about 150 feet outside his home with his walker to about a mile and a half within a month, and even reached eight and a half miles just last week.
In June, Jared said his cardiologist told him he had an irregular heartbeat after he thought he was having what appeared to be a heart attack. Months later, he learned that he’s been diagnosed with myocarditis.
"For those who have lasting effects after the SARS CoV-2 infection, we know that it is not just the lungs that are involved, but multiple organs throughout the body. And so, the viral effects can include damage directly to the heart muscle, something we call myocarditis, which causes inflammation of the heart muscle itself," said Maragakis.
“My myocarditis, luckily, it’s localized to my left ventricle. The blood flow coming out is still good. But it's been quite an experience as well,” Jared said.
More signs of progress this holiday season
His recent return to work full time and plan to participate in an upcoming menorah lighting in person are continued signs of progress for him and his family.
On the first day of Hanukkah, Jared and his physician will light the menorah together as a part of an interfaith Hanukkah celebration in honor of others with COVID-19 and the healthcare workers fighting alongside them.
As the family reflects back on their journey together, they hold a feeling of gratitude and hopefulness.
“With COVID, you just can’t take any day for granted because you never know. Today might be your last. It’s really crazy. I have lost some family and friends around the United States from COVID,” Robin said.
“I think about how, what would life be if you weren’t here? Or if he lost that battle with COVID-19. And it's obviously very scary to think about, but it just essentially makes me more grateful for the healthcare workers and how hard my dad fought for his life,” Abigail said.