People and Culture
Lacing Up for Health After Beating COVID-19: Paulo’s Story
Stories@Gilead - May 11, 2021 - 4 min read
Last month, Paulo Santos put on his running shoes and hit the road. But this wasn’t a normal, everyday run. Instead, he ran 20 miles from Freehold Township to Neptune Township in New Jersey.
Paulo had made the journey before, but not on foot. A little more than a year earlier, in March 2020, Paulo, who’d contracted COVID-19, was rushed in an ambulance from one hospital to the other to obtain access to an experimental treatment through a clinical study.
Paulo contracted COVID-19 fairly early, before much of the United States issued its shelter-in-place orders.
“When I got sick, my wife, Christine, who’s a dialysis nurse, immediately made me quarantine in the basement,” says Paulo. “I fought it off for four or five days, but one night my fever got very high.”
On March 17, Paulo went to the emergency room and was admitted for what would end up being a 24-day stay.
“During my first day at the hospital you could hear a lot of people coughing and screaming,” he says. “On the second day, I looked out the window and saw they were installing tents for intake. I started realizing this was actually pretty serious.”
After getting gradually sicker, Paulo was intubated.
At home with their two kids, Christine was frantically researching potential treatments. With the help of her community, she discovered that a clinical study of an experimental COVID-19 treatment was taking place only 20 miles away from Paulo’s hospital. In between juggling parenting duties and taking care of her own parents, who had also contracted the disease, she had Paulo moved and enrolled in the study.
“I barely survived the trip,” he remembers. “When I got to the hospital, my pulse was in the 20s, and my blood pressure was dangerously low.”
After being enrolled in the clinical study, Paulo improved. On April 7, his 39th birthday, he woke up. Three days later, he went home.
Recovery from the disease took time. Doctors recommended Paulo spend a month in a physical therapy facility, but Paulo wanted to be at home. There, he set his own goals: walk to the mailbox, walk to the next house and then walk to the end of the block.
“After a month and a half of being home, I finally was able to take a couple steps jogging,” he recalls. “One day, I was able to get three miles away from the house and I ended up in the parking lot of the first hospital.”
It was an emotional experience.
“I realized then how many people were involved in my recovery,” Paulo says. “My only job was to not die, and just to lie there. It was really everybody else who put so much into it.”
It was then that he decided to show how much he appreciated the support he received from others to get through the disease, and to run 20 miles from one hospital to the other.
He did the run exactly a year after he was discharged. The journey marked a turning point in Paulo’s recovery.
“I didn't want to keep being the guy who was the COVID survivor,” he says. “I needed to put that whole idea of being a survivor in the past.”
Now, Paulo feels like he can start looking ahead and he has decided to run the New York City Marathon in November. This time, he plans to carry photos of those who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19.
Paulo, Christine and his two children, Paulo Jr. and Ava, celebrating Christine’s birthday this past March.
Paulo says he’s thankful – for his family, his doctors and science. “It's almost impossible when you look at the odds,” he says. “For everything to happen exactly the way it did is just an amazing feeling.”