Colby Douglas is a Special Olympics gold medalist in swimming, but it’s his victory over the coronavirus that has people cheering.
The 21-year-old from Pequannock, New Jersey, who was born with Down syndrome, returned home last week after spending 136 days in a hospital with COVID-19.
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Douglas' return home was fit for a king, with people turning out for a parade in his honor. When asked by TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie about the best part of the parade, he said, “The fans.”
Douglas had a long road to recovery after falling ill. He asked his parents to take him to the hospital when he woke up feeling sick.
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“And by the time we got there, they said he already had pneumonia,” his mom, Gayle Douglas, said. She said they were transferred to another hospital where he was intubated on April 2 and diagnosed with the coronavirus. He would go on to spend a total of 136 days in the hospital, the majority of that intubated and on a ventilator.
“I kneeled in the backyard and I prayed to God that Colby had so many people believing in him that he needed to heal him,” Gayle said.
Douglas' ordeal even caught the attention of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who wished him well in a Facebook post back in June.
"Meet 21-year-old Colby Douglas – an extraordinary young man and a Special Olympian," the governor wrote. "His inner strength was pushed to its limits as he fought a nearly 11-week battle with #COVID19. After 75 days of being hospitalized, Colby began his rehab. We’re rooting for his full recovery!
Because Douglas has special needs, his mother was allowed to stay in the room with him, but only if she didn’t leave.
“I just needed to be there,” she said.
Her husband, George, told TODAY that Gayle’s role in taking care of their child should be celebrated.
“You've interviewed presidents and actors and everybody else. Well, here's another rock star that you can be interviewing here, is Gayle. Because she's just phenomenal,” he said.
Gayle Douglas said she dropped 20 pounds pacing 5 miles a day in the hospital room.
“Not the way you want to lose weight, at all, but I just needed to be with him all the time, just to make sure he was OK,” she said.
Douglas eventually woke up to his mom, his dog and thousands of get-well cards at his side, while his doctors called what happened a miracle. When he returned home on Aug. 14, people from his town and surrounding towns gathered for a parade in his honor.
Above all else, George Douglas said he was grateful his son recovered.
“Just a blessing beyond blessings. It's just unbelievable. And then the crowning jewel is he's OK and he's home. And that's what we were all praying for all this time, you know? How blessed we are."