Vito F Back to Life – Vito's Story

"I’d like to thank Nicole Starr, Alyssa Kuklo and all the other registered nurses and nurses’ aides for taking very good care of me. They truly made me feel special."

One puzzling thing about COVID-19 is how differently it affects people. A couple shares their story.

For Donna Chojnowski of Bayville, COVID-19 started with a cough and a low fever on Thursday, March 19. When her fever shot up the next day, her fiancé, Vito Fredella, took her to an urgent care center, where they did a flu test, which was negative. They also tested Donna for COVID-19, but it would be eight days before she’d have the results. She began to notice other symptoms, including loss of taste and smell. Donna’s fever was gone by Saturday, but it returned a few days later, followed by Vito developing a fever on Friday, March 27. He rested, hoping it would go down.

On Monday, they went to the Emergency Department (ED) at Community Medical Center. Donna was examined and told that she had COVID-19, but the chest X-ray they took looked good. Vito was tested for COVID-19, and both were released. By the time Vito got his positive test result, Donna was feeling better. But he was getting progressively worse, spending more time in bed and spiking a fever of 104.7. He couldn’t taste or smell, and had a cough. The morning of Sunday, April 5, Donna became very worried.

“Vito’s breathing wasn’t normal,” she says. “He was taking very short, quick breaths, and each one came with a moan. I called his primary care doctor, and they told me to call 911.” “The last thing I remember,” says Vito, “is the emergency team taking me out of the bedroom. I don’t remember anything else until they pulled the ventilator tube out of my mouth. ”

In the ED, Vito was found to be in respiratory failure, intubated and put on a ventilator. Wajahat Khan, MD, a specialist in caring for critically ill patients in the Intensive Care Unit, was part of Vito’s care team. “At that time,” says Dr. Khan, “we had about 32 patients on ventilators. I was very concerned about whether we’d be able to get Vito and the other patients off ventilators. We’ve developed a treatment protocol based on the most current best practices and what we understand assists in the disease process, but we can’t predict who will come off and who won’t.”

Vito was lucky—he was removed from the ventilator after only three days. But he spent another 16 days in the hospital. “ These patients have severe lung disease,” says Dr. Khan, who estimates he has treated 70 to 80 COVID-19 patients. “When they come off the ventilator, they still need a lot of oxygen and care.”

During his remaining time in the hospital, Vito says he was cared for by many wonderful nurses who helped him through a challenging time when no loved ones could visit. “I’d like to thank Nicole Starr, Alyssa Kuklo and all the other registered nurses and nurses’ aides for taking very good care of me,” says Vito. “They truly made me feel special.” Vito was discharged on April 23, accompanied by a “clap out.”

This small but very meaningful celebration is held for COVID-19 patients when they’re discharged. Staff line the hallway, clapping and cheering as the patient is wheeled out of their room and out of the unit. “It gives both the providers and the patient a time to smile and celebrate our hard work and one another’s health,” says Jennifer Nugent, RN, one of Vito’s nurses. “We celebrate that our patient is able to go home to their loved ones, who they’ve missed for weeks.”

When the team found out that Vito was going home, they were very excited, says Nugent. “We made signs and decorated the wheelchair. Because Vito used to box, I downloaded the "Rocky” theme song to my phone for him to be wheeled out to. Unfortunately, in all the excitement, I forgot, but we played it in the elevator instead.”

Looking ahead

As businesses around the state open up, Vito advises continued caution. “Don’t take this lightly,” he says. “Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Make sure when you go out to wear a mask, and keep up social distancing, handwashing and other precautions.”

“I don’t think people understand how lethal COVID-19 is,” says Dr. Khan. “People will sometimes compare it to influenza. But I’ve seen more death in two months from COVID than I have in 10 years from influenza. We’re a very well-equipped ICU with an exceptionally trained team of nurses and intensivists. But we’ve all been stunned by the amount of death COVID-19 brings.”

Vito continues to recover at home. “I’m feeling pretty good,” he says, “but they tell me it’s a slow process. I’m doing my breathing exercises and walking. Donna has been an angel throughout—I want to thank her for everything she has done for me to this point, and all she will do until I’m 100 percent again.”

At the end of July, the couple is going to the Bahamas for a family vacation that will include a wedding ceremony for Vito and Donna on the beach.