A 28-year-old Montgomery woman and a 56-year-old New Paltz man both contracted the novel coronavirus and became so sick they were put on ventilators.
The two mid-Hudson Valley residents were otherwise healthy before being diagnosed with COVID-19, they said. And neither of them know how they contracted the virus.
Their stories of surviving the illness that has sparked a pandemic and a statewide pause order are what they and their loved ones have described as a miracle.
Nicole Miller, 28, a hairstylist at Ulta in the Town of Wallkill
Miller had a slight fever and a cough in late March. She said she began to feel better, but a few days later she developed a high fever and had the worst body pains she said she had ever experienced.
Her cousin, who is a nurse, listened to her breathing on the phone and could hear popping sounds in her lungs. That’s when her husband, Daniel Bennet, rushed her to Orange Regional Medical Center, where she said she was admitted right away.
“It’s so hard to even comprehend you’re going to be on a machine to breathe because you can’t breathe for yourself,” Miller said.
Bennet, 32, kept a journal detailing Miller’s treatments, symptoms and status updates. She was put on a ventilator for two days, and was in the hospital for nearly three weeks before finally coming home on Easter Sunday.
The young couple lives with Miller’s parents in her childhood home in Montgomery. No one else in the home tested positive for the virus.
Aside from being overweight, Miller said she had no other preexisting health conditions that would have contributed to her coronavirus battle. She lost more than 30 pounds while in the hospital.
She has already been approved to donate plasma to other COVID-19 patients who are in severe condition, like she was.
Those who don’t take social distancing seriously should consider that their loneliness at home now will feel much worse from a hospital bed later, Miller said.
“No one should have to go through what I went through,” Miller said. “No one’s family should go through what my family went through.”
Robert Scialpi, 56, a private equity lender working out of Ellenville
Scialpi was on a ventilator for three weeks at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie before he woke up as thirsty as can be. He remembered feeling relief when someone gave him a popsicle in the hospital.
After entering the hospital on March 20, he stayed for 31 days before being transferred to a rehabilitation facility for further treatment. He finally went home to his wife, two of his four daughters and his “son” Harley, the family dog, on Thursday.
He credits his recovery to the hospital staff and the support of his family.
“I want to believe I came back because I felt my family needed me,” Scialpi said.
His wife, Nyvette Reyes-Scialpi, and one of his daughters both tested positive for the virus, but did not exhibit symptoms nearly as bad as his.
His spirits were high on Tuesday as he excitedly waited for the go-ahead to spring free from his month-long journey back to health. But he said it was bittersweet to leave the people who became like family at the hospital and rehab.
“You don’t see the people behind the mask, you see the character of who they really are,” Scialpi said.
Before becoming sick with the virus, Scialpi said he was not aware of his preexisting health conditions. When he got to the hospital, he also began treatment for hypertension and Lyme disease. He also developed a blood clot that was treated.
He lost nearly 45 pounds while in the hospital, jokingly calling it the “corona diet.”
What scares him and Miller most about their experience is the unknown of the virus. Most of the health professionals the two have worked with have told them there is still so much to learn about the virus’ effects on its victims.
But both Miller and Scialpi said they were thankful to be survivors.
“I succeeded and I prevailed, and I’m very grateful,” Scialpi said.
Miller made a Facebook group specifically for those in Orange and Rockland counties who have survived contracting COVID-19. She said it has helped her find a community of others who have gone through a similar kind of nightmare.