New York Daily News

‘YOU SAVED MY LIFE’ 116 TIMES

COVID sur­vivor writes let­ters to hosp an­gels

- BY LARRY MCSHANE

There’s deep and abid­ing grat­i­tude. And there’s COVID-19 sur­vivor Jeff Ger­son, who took his thanks to an­other level.

Ger­son ar­rived March 18 at NYU Lan­gone Tisch Hos­pi­tal in Man­hat­tan with a 103-de­gree fever, an un­con­trol­lable cough and a bad prog­no­sis. The coro­n­avirus ca­su­alty went on a ven­ti­la­tor the next day, wak­ing up a month later with no mem­ory of his mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery or the dozens of front­line work­ers who saved his life.

That was soon to change. When the 44-year-old pa­tient re­turned home May 2, he felt a gnaw­ing need to thank them all — a to­tal of 116 doc­tors, nurses, ther­a­pists and other anony­mous med­i­cal he­roes of the pandemic. The fi­nance pro­fes­sional turned into an online de­tec­tive, us­ing a hos­pi­tal app and his own in­surance records to track down dozens of his bene­fac­tors across the next five months.

And then, as Thanks­giv­ing neared, he sent them all a note of deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

“If you are re­ceiv­ing this let­ter, it is be­cause I have be­come aware that you had a part in sav­ing my life,” wrote the grate­ful Up­per East Side res­i­dent. “It is only af­ter much ef­fort on my part to find your names that I re­al­ize just how many of you there were.”

Ger­son, now six months out of the hos­pi­tal and healthy, re­called the flood of emo­tions ac­com­pa­ny­ing his re­cov­ery from a virus that has claimed more than 260,000 Amer­i­can lives.

“I was cry­ing ev­ery morn­ing, lit­er­ally,” said Ger­son. “I had ques­tions. Why did I sur­vive? I cer­tainly had thoughts about what I needed to do in my life now, to make this worth­while.”

He thought of the cli­mac­tic scene in the film “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan,” where the dy­ing Tom Hanks char­ac­ter urged Matt Da­mon’s char­ac­ter to “earn this” — to carry on for those lost try­ing to save him.

“I was just re­ally thank­ful, and lucky, and grate­ful,” he re­called. “I wanted to say thank you. I just wanted to thank ev­ery­body.”

His first thought was a party, but a peek out­side his hos­pi­tal room win­dow pro­vided a glimpse of how the world had changed

since his hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. Look­ing west on 33rd St. from First Ave., he could count on one hand the num­ber of parked cars all the way across Man­hat­tan to Penn Sta­tion.

“I had no idea what the rest of the world was go­ing through,” he ex­plained. “I was just so thank­ful th­ese peo­ple were do­ing their job and tak­ing the risks they had taken. And my in­abil­ity to thank them for such spe­cial and heroic treat­ment was re­ally leav­ing a void in my re­cov­ery process.”

It took a while, but Ger­son com­piled his list and com­posed the heart­felt three-page mes­sage of thanks that was sent out Nov. 10.

NYU Lan­gone Dr. Luis An­gel re­called the in­san­ity en­gulf­ing the hos­pi­tal back when Ger­son ar­rived: 170 coro­n­avirus pa­tients, all on ven­ti­la­tors. Over the course of the next three months, about 40% of the hos­pi­tal’s ven­ti­lated COVID-19 vic­tims did not sur­vive, he re­called.

An­gel was sur­prised and thrilled by the un­ex­pected thank you note from one who did.

“I’ll tell you, it’s in­cred­i­ble,” said An­gel. “To find ev­ery name and give a thank you to ev­ery­body — we don’t live for that. But when we get it, we ab­so­lutely en­joy and ap­pre­ci­ate that.”

An­gel stresses he was just a cog in a big­ger ma­chine of Ger­son’s sav­iors: “This is a credit to ev­ery­one. Ev­ery­one did the best for him.”

The dozens of work­ers whose ef­forts spared his life included vis­it­ing nurses from coast to coast, vol­un­teers who came to the city from Cal­i­for­nia, Ge­or­gia, Ken­tucky and South Carolina.

In the end, Ger­son failed to reach just one of his res­cuers: Dr. Sydney Mehl, who treated him only to die weeks later from the deadly virus. Ger­son re­called search­ing the in­ter­net for Mehl’s con­tact informatio­n only to find his obit­u­ary.

“I have since reached out to his wife, and found her through Face­book,” said Ger­son. “He was ded­i­cated right to the end. That’s the kind of doc­tor he was.”

With Thanks­giv­ing ar­riv­ing, Ger­son’s life is back to nor­mal. He takes daily bike rides through Cen­tral Park, and spends time with his 6-year-old son.

“It’s sur­real,” he said. “I won’t say it feels like it hap­pened to some­body else. But I’m not feel­ing any ill ef­fects, I have not slowed down at all.”

He be­lieves the let­ter of thanks was sent at a good time, shortly af­ter the six-month an­niver­sary of his re­lease from the hos­pi­tal and as the num­ber of pos­i­tive cases starts to climb.

“It does feel like the timing of the let­ter just came to­gether,” he said. “Peo­ple are for­get­ting what’s go­ing on out there on the front lines.”

Ger­son ended his mis­sive with a re­quest for his he­roes to con­tact him, to cel­e­brate their heroic ef­forts and to keep up the life-sav­ing work.

“Con­tinue do­ing what you do,” he con­cluded. “Con­tinue be­ing the he­roes you are and know you will for­ever have my grat­i­tude.”

 ??  ?? Jef­frey Ger­son (right) cel­e­brates sur­viv­ing COVID with the help of Dr. Luis An­gel (left) and his team (top left) at NYU Lan­gone Tisch Hos­pi­tal in Man­hat­tan.
Jef­frey Ger­son (right) cel­e­brates sur­viv­ing COVID with the help of Dr. Luis An­gel (left) and his team (top left) at NYU Lan­gone Tisch Hos­pi­tal in Man­hat­tan.
 ??  ?? Dr. Luis An­gel (left and be­low right), is pic­tured with his former COVID-19 pa­tient Jef­frey Ger­son on Wed­nes­day. An­gel was one of 116 staffers at NYU Lan­gone Tisch Hos­pi­tal to whom Ger­son wrote a thank-you note.
Dr. Luis An­gel (left and be­low right), is pic­tured with his former COVID-19 pa­tient Jef­frey Ger­son on Wed­nes­day. An­gel was one of 116 staffers at NYU Lan­gone Tisch Hos­pi­tal to whom Ger­son wrote a thank-you note.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA