Website created by Ava DeLauro
Body By Coronavirus, An Inspirational Covid-19 Survivor Story
by Louis DeLauro, Copyright: July, 2020
At age 52 in early March of this year, Jimmy Marsh was hit by a truck... a truck called Coronavirus or COVID-19. Jimmy didn't even know what hit him back in March. He walked into an emergency room and within hours he was told his situation was life or death. So he signed permission to be hooked to a machine that would breathe for him. A machine he was unfamiliar with called a ventilator. Then he was gone.
Gone for 40 days.
40 days of nothing. Jimmy Marsh was alive, but for 40 days he was not present. He has just one memory while hooked up to the ventilator for 32 of those days. A reoccurring dream in which he envisioned suffocating. He dreamt that he was specifically at a small run-down hospital on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. In his anguishing dream, he was lying in bed with a sheet over his head calling for the nurses. But the nurses did not respond to him. He doesn't know how often he had the dream but he feels as though the dream was on a continuous loop for many days and nights. Until one day he woke up.
Jimmy woke up 70 pounds lighter staring at a huge teddy bear across the room from him. He was so out of it that he thought the teddy bear was his hospital roommate. He asked the nurse, "My roommate hasn't moved, is he okay?"
No. The teddy bear didn't move. It was a gift from his wife, Maria, and his two kids Arpad age 22, and Sereia (her friends call her Rei) age 15. Jimmy also did not move for 40 days. Hospital heroes moved his limp and failing body for him. They turned him over, face down, to get the fluid out of his lungs. A ventilator helped get oxygen into his lungs. A tube inserted into his stomach provided just enough nutrition for him to survive. Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and X-ray technicians risked their own lives to keep Jimmy alive.
When Jimmy's body recovered from the virus, and he awoke from sedation, he was completely unaware that he spent 40 days at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey. He quickly realized his body was unrecognizable. He really could not comprehend all that he went through. He knew so little about this new virus that had nearly ended his life. He was also completely unaware of how much pain his family had endured.
While Jimmy was in the hospital for 40 days, his wife and kids were also sick with COVID-19. Maria was coughing and crying when she was told time and time again that she should prepare her kids for the worst. Even though Jimmy was a big tough guy, six feet four inches tall, he very likely was going to die. Maria was physically and emotionally broken and her kids were ill and coughing. The Marsh family was collectively enduring a real-life nightmare.
Maria was sick enough to go to the hospital but did not go to the ICU. Her hospital stay was a blur of illness, tears, and unrelenting fear. Would Jimmy die? Would she die too? Would her kids be okay? She needed to be with her husband and her kids. She felt hopeless and alone.
Arpad was now home alone with his young sis. Arpad is a mature 22-year old and his sister Sereia at 15 was easy to care for. But it's nearly impossible to imagine how difficult life was for the Marsh children while both of their parents were hospitalized during a global pandemic. The television was reporting hundreds of deaths daily. They had no income coming in and a shortage of food in their home.
Rei's tennis partner on the Hunterdon Central team last year was my daughter, Ava. And Ava came to me in mid-March and said, "Dad, Sereia, and her brother are all alone. How can we help them?"
"What do you mean I asked? What's going on?"
"My friend Rei is sick with COVID-19. Her bother is sick. And both of her parents are in the hospital with COVID-19," Ava said, tearily.
My wife and I think Rei is one of Ava's nicest friends. Always smiling. Always telling our daughter how much she values their friendship. Rei is sweet. And we were eager to help her family.
"Give me Rei's number," I said. And within minutes I spoke with both Rei and Arpad. Both Marsh kids impressed me as mature beyond their years and were very willing to accept help.
So I immediately called Ava's and Rei's tennis coach, Will Daly. Within days, Grubhub lunches, DoorDash dinners, and Amazon packages were being sent to the Marsh house by the parents of girls on the tennis team. Coach Daly sent a pizza almost immediately, and those meals kept coming!
And within a few days, Maria came home from the hospital.
But even with Maria home, the meals kept coming. Giftcards, toilet paper, cans of soup, and orange juice. Whatever the family needed the tennis team and friends of the Marsh family helped them with the best they could.
But more than the meals and packages, what the Marsh family really needed was Jimmy. They needed their husband and dad.
On April 4, I learned an old colleague of mine, also named Jimmy died. Principal Jim Brown, at age 48, one of the best teachers I ever met. Jim became an amazing school principal and was posthumously honored by Governor Murphy on TV for his life-changing work in education.
I couldn't believe Jim Brown lost his battle to COVID-19. I was heartbroken. Jim Brown was a tank of a man. He had kind words for everyone. He was a walking inspiration. Jim Brown was a hero in three communities. I didn't know Jim as well as others, but I wiped tears when he died. I knew he would be missed.
And sadly, I thought to myself that if Jim Brown lost his COVID-19 battle, then Jimmy Marsh would too.
Maria Marsh kept giving me updates about her husband Jimmy over the phone. "They told me he was gone at one point. I thought he died. Pray for him. Pray for Jimmy. I love him. The kids love him. We need him. Thank you for all the food and support. Thank you, so much." she cried.
I regularly gave updates to Coach Daly on how Jimmy was doing. And Coach shared details with the parents of the tennis team. Our little tennis family waited patiently for some good or bad news. Maria and her kids were always in our thoughts.
It wasn't until April 29 that I got a text and a Youtube video from a tennis mom, "Rei's dad just got out of the hospital. He is going to rehab."
What? I couldn't believe it.
I watched the Youtube video the mom sent me featuring Jimmy leaving the hospital. The video caption read: "Today, James Marsh, one of the first COVID-19 patients that was admitted to the hospital, and intubated was discharged from Hunterdon Medical Center. Hunterdon Medical Center staff gathered to wish him well!"
The video was of Jimmy in a hospital bed. Then Jimmy being wheeled out of the hospital holding his roommate, the giant teddy bear.
Jimmy and I are acquaintances and it was easy for me to see that Jimmy had lost a ridiculous amount of weight. The hospital staff gathered outside to give him a standing ovation. The video brought me tears. Jimmy Marsh was going to live.
I texted Maria to tell her I saw the video. She said, "What video?" She knew Jimmy was sent to rehab but she had not seen the hospital's Youtube video. I sent her the video of her husband. Maria watched the video and cried. Her prayers had been answered.
Fast forward to today, July 14. I saw Jimmy and Maria for the first time since they got sick. Ava and Rei played tennis, while social distancing. And Jimmy and Maria stood in the parking lot talking to me for about 30 minutes, standing 10 feet apart. They told me details about their long ordeal.
Too many details to share here.
Maria told me it was her decision to have a needle inserted in Jimmy's back to clear his fluid-filled lungs.
Jimmy told me about his trach tube while pointing to the fresh scar on his neck. Jimmy told me about the emotional and physical toll he endured in rehab and the endless pep talks he had to give himself so he would recover. Two occupational therapists, Kelly and Kate, were among an amazing team of 8 or 9 therapists who cared for him. Jimmy has developed a great appreciation for therapists and he insists people who are not sick or injured don't truly understand the amazing work these unsung heroes do.
Every day Jimmy had three necessary hours of occupational and physical therapy. These were the darkest days for him. "I was no longer sedated and I was helpless. I couldn't do anything." I thought, "Am I going to be in rehab for a year or maybe longer?" Jimmy's mindset changed one day early on when he remembered his own triumphant backstory. When Jimmy was 20 he was a gold medalist at the Junior Olympics for fencing. Fencing taught him to focus on the little things that nobody could see. He embraced learning to brush his teeth, learning to use the bathroom on his own and taking steps. He remembers counting steps daily. 10 steps, then 11, then 12. And much later 40, 50 and 60 steps.
Jimmy has a kind way about him. He was proud to tell me that although his family has been financially ruined since the virus hit, he knows in his heart that the bills do not really matter. Only his family matters. He is thankful he is here with his family.
Jimmy was also proud to tell me that he got to speak to his entire company, CenturyLink, over Zoom. "Maybe I spoke to a thousand people," he said. "I have a story to tell and I want to share it. Coronavirus almost killed me. I want people to learn from me. People need to wear a mask and respect this virus. I was one of those guys who thought the media is making a big deal out of it, this new virus can't be worse than the flu. I was wrong."
While talking in the parking lot, I complimented Jimmy and told him he looked great.
Jimmy joked, pointing to his thin frame. "Body by Coronavirus!"
I laughed, "That's funny, but not funny."
Jimmy replied, "No, it wasn't funny at all. It was actually pretty terrifying. I am so happy to be here with my family. I am so happy to be alive."