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Conn. EMT who survived 60-day battle with COVID-19 returns to hospital for vaccine

Suffield EMT John Ryan shared the story of his illness and recovery at a virtual news conference after receiving his vaccine

Adam Hushin
Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Last year, Suffield EMT John Ryan spent 60 days in the hospital recovering from COVID-19, an ordeal that nearly cost him his life and forced him to learn how to walk again.

On Monday, Ryan returned to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center to get something that could ensure he’d never have to go through that again — the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ryan, 61, who works for the Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association, was featured in a virtual news conference held Wednesday by Trinity Health of New England — which operates St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center along with Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford — to share his story and stress the importance of getting the vaccine as the state prepares to enter Phase 1B of vaccination efforts.

Dr. Syed Hussain, chief clinical officer for Trinity Health of New England, spoke about Ryan’s recovery during the news conference.

“The good news is not only that he’s recovered, but that he came back to get his vaccine,” Hussain said.

He also provided an update on the health care network’s vaccine rollout, saying the state is beginning to move into Phase 1B, which expands the pool of people eligible to receive the vaccine. He added that St. Francis Hospital increased its vaccination capacity as Phase 1A progressed so it would be prepared for the next phase.

“We ramped up activity during Phase 1A to go from 300 to a little under 1,000 recipients every day,” Hussain said.

He added that Trinity Health is looking to continue to expand its vaccine clinic capacity “both in our existing locations as well as setting up new ones.”

Hussain said further updates are still to come with more details on where and when these new clinics will open.

Recipients included in the Phase 1B demographic include individuals age 75 and older and more frontline essential workers, according to the state.

Ryan stressed how vital it is for everyone to receive the vaccine, especially first responders. According to Ryan, he contracted the virus while on an emergency call, something that was not unexpected as an EMT.

“We’re the front line,” Ryan said. “We see patients before anyone else does.”

After Ryan’s symptoms worsened, he checked into St. Francis Hospital on May 3, he said.

Five days after being admitted, he went into cardiac arrest, and had to be revived by hospital staff, he said.

“For 4 1/2 four minutes I was dead,” Ryan said.

As chance would have it, Ryan had been speaking with a doctor and two nurses when he collapsed and lost consciousness. He said these individuals performed CPR to revive him before putting him on a ventilator.

“I got really lucky,” Ryan said.

Ryan said when he woke up 10 days later, he was still symptomatic, and besides the typical COVID symptoms such as losing his sense of taste and smell and having a cough, he also suffered from hallucinations.

“For some reason I thought I was in Florida,” Ryan said. “I was giving the doctors a hard time.”

He finally received his first negative coronavirus test sometime during the second week in June, over a month after being admitted to St. Francis Hospital. Once a spot opened up, he was transferred to Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital for occupational and physical therapy, and the therapy is still ongoing. Ryan said he returns to Mount Sinai weekly to continue his rehabilitation.

“I’m still not 100 percent yet, but we’re getting there,” he said.

His end goal is to be able to return to his work as an EMT, which is why he was eager to receive the vaccine, he said.

“Hopefully, I’ll be back to work soon,” Ryan said. “That’s what’s really important, is being able to continue helping people.”


(c)2021 Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn.