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#YearofCOVID: Patients Look Back

Survivors Embrace Life After Battling Deadly Foe

COVID-19 swept into Southern California a year ago, a silent and forbidding foe that randomly upended the lives of patients young and old, hearty and frail, ready or not. Some survivors can recall every detail of their illnesses, while others say that memories of days spent on a ventilator or in a fog of fever are irretrievable. Loneliness was their constant, and often only, companion.

The following photo essay offers snapshots of three Cedars-Sinai patients who battled and survived COVID-19. Two were diagnosed early in the pandemic, when treatments were scarce and experimental. The third was recently diagnosed with the virus while undergoing treatment for gall bladder cancer that has spread in her body.

Ross Grant, MD, is a 42-year-old Cedars-Sinai physician who treated COVID-19 patients before being stricken himself. Despite taking all the precautions available early in the pandemic, he knew he was at high risk for the virus when patients first started flowing into the emergency room, where he works. Last February, Ross became seriously ill, spending four days in the hospital and one month at home recuperating from lingering symptoms. He is now fully recovered, still treats COVID-19 patients, and has resumed his rigorous exercise regimen.

Computer scientist Keith Miles, 66, tenderly cared for his wife when she contracted a mild case of the virus in April. She recovered at home; he ended up on a ventilator in the ICU, fighting for his life. He survived a heart attack and received an experimental heart treatment developed at the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute. As a long-term COVID survivor, Miles still battles fatigue, difficulty breathing and brain fog, but he is back to work and able to pedal five continuous miles on his favorite bike path.

Vardanush Pilikyan, 66, is a clothing designer and tailor who already had her hands full undergoing cancer chemotherapy treatments. Then in January this year, following her husband’s COVID-19 diagnosis and severe illness, she spent four days in a hotel room hoping to avoid the virus herself. Waiting alone in her hotel, her luck ran out. She did, however, get a fairly mild case lasting 10 days, with few lingering symptoms.

Despite their different experiences, all of these survivors agree that COVID-19 has made a lasting impact on their lives, both physically and emotionally. Each of them feels grateful that they survived.

Keith Miles, 61, Los Angeles, Computer Scientist

  • “After 30 minutes in the shower, my wife found me passed out, with a bar of soap in my hand. To get dressed for the hospital ride, I got one leg into sweats, then dozed off. My wife had to help me, like I was a 6-year-old.”
  • “At my sickest point, I saw my deceased mom’s image. One time she looked concerned; the second time, she smiled. I also saw my deceased dad standing by the ventilator mouthing, ‘fight!’ I did.”
  • “Love for my COVID-infected wife got me into an ICU bed. Love for my son got me out of it. I got to see him deliver a speech at his high school graduation. I’m lucky I got to see these things.”

Vardanush Pilikyan, 66: Tujunga, Clothing Designer

  • I had some difficulty breathing, fatigue and joint pain, but my worst symptom was the loss of appetite. I lost 14 pounds over 10 days.”
  • “I was more worried about my daughter than myself. She was in the hospital for a week and a half with COVID, on oxygen, very, very sick.”
  • I have an upbeat, positive attitude. But I now have a different perspective on life. I saw a lot of people who got very sick, and I feel lucky that I didn’t. I’m grateful to be over the virus now and that I didn’t get too sick.”

Ross Grant, MD: 42, Los Angeles resident, Cedars-Sinai Hospitalist

  • “I’m a healthy, fit person who was hit hard: I slept for days at a time, had pneumonia and a months-long bad cough, high fevers, shaking chills, and I felt like a vice squeezed my head. I was debilitated, unable to work for a month.”
  • “Fear was the worst part for me. I got the virus in the early days, when there was a lot of uncertainty about it. I was shocked that I couldn’t stay awake even to return emails or manage my life. I heard about 40-year-olds who were dying.”
  • “Although I was very sick, I’m lucky I wasn’t as bad off as others. I had great care. I feel lucky, too, that I learned a lot as a patient and as a physician. I realize how fragile human beings are. We cannot take our good health for granted.”

    Read more about COVID-19 recovery on the Cedars-Sinai blog: COVID-19 Recovery Program Cares for Those With Persistent Symptoms