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Man reveals partner’s terrifying, near-death COVID-19 experience

Brian Zupanick and John Giarratano - who has been critically ill with coronavirus/COVID-19
L-R: Brian Zupanick and John Giarratano (Photo: Supplied)

A gay man in New York City has shared details of his partner’s fight against COVID-19, warning the virus infection, “should be taken seriously and everyone should be terrified.”

John Giarratano is a freelance TV producer who lives with his partner of ten years, Brian Zupanick, in Queens, NYC. The city has emerged as a coronavirus hotspot in the US.

When Giarratano, 42, developed a fever on Friday, March 6, both men were concerned but not unduly panicked. “There was no cough. No labored breathing,” Zupanick, 39, told Pixx11 last week, also noting that Giarratano has no pre-existing health conditions.

However, Giarratano’s symptoms got worse over the following weekend. By the Monday, his fever had hit 102 degrees. As he had no breathing problems, the men followed advice not to go to the ER. However, by Wednesday, March 11, Giarratano’s fever had reached 103.6, and on Thursday, March 12, they went to Urgent Care in Howard Beach.

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At first, medical staff thought he had flu or pneumonia. Later that same day, he developed a cough and his breathing became labored.

“The next day, he called me to say, ‘I’m really scared. I can’t breathe at all’,” Zupanick told People.

“I was concerned because John’s like a rock. He never gets sick. He has no preexisting conditions. They ran panels and got results back on everything except COVID-19.

“The hospital soon went into lockdown and no visitors were allowed anymore. By that point, John was getting worse. His breathing became really labored. It just moved so quickly. He called me. He was trying to talk, but he was so out of breath, he couldn’t even say the words. He just said, “Can’t breathe. The heart doctor’s here, ICU too.” And then he hung up.”

Giarratano’s condition deteriorated and he was transferred to ICU at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Oceanside, where he was intubated and given oxygen. However, the hospital was still awaiting the results of his COVID-19 tests. The tests had been sent to a lab in New Jersey. That lab had sent them on to another lab in North Carolina.

Zupanick found out the results might not arrive back until Wednesday, March 18. The hospital was treating Giarratano with anti-virals but holding off on using other medications until his results came back positive.

“We were running out of options waiting for this test, and his health was getting worse,” says Zupanick. “I called the lab again and I was like, ‘What is going on with this test? My partner is going to die waiting for it. He cannot start treatment without a positive result.’ They said they might have the results by March 20th or 21st; I said, ‘He’s going to be dead’ and hung up.”

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Desperate, Zupanick emailed the President of Mount Sinai, not expecting a response.

“Within seven minutes, the president of Mount Sinai responded to me. He had John’s COVID-19 test expedited and then I got a phone call from the administrator saying that the head of infectious disease approved treatment without the test, and he started it immediately. I was so thankful.”

Giarratano’s results later came back positive for COVID-19.

Giarratano’s condition stabilized but he remained critical. He had to be transferred to another part of the hospital for different treatments. Even moving him at this stage came with dire risks, but it was managed successfully. Giarratano remained on ventilators for several days and his condition has slowly improved.

Zupanick wants to warn people about the seriousness of COVID-19, and no-one should assume that they will be fine if they acquire it.

John Giarratano and Brian Zupanick
L-R: John Giarratano and Brian Zupanick (Photo: Supplied)

“People also don’t think about the fact that all of these family members, like me, can’t even see their loved ones. That fact alone can make it extremely stressful, and you add everything else on top of that, it’s truly a nightmare. I’m going over two weeks of not being by his side through all of this, and now he’s awake and I still can’t see him.”

There’s also the stress of the medical bills. As a freelancer, Giarratano was waiting for 90 days to pass to be eligible for new insurance coverage. However, he fell ill before the 90-day period had elapsed, leaving the couple facing crippling medical bills.

Zupanick says costs have averaged around $10,000 to cover his ICU treatment. He’s set up a GoFundMe, which at the time of writing has raised $18,171 of a $150,000 target.

In an update posted yesterday, Zupanick said, “John has recently been taken off the ventilator, and he’s currently being monitored. Even though we have a long road of recovery ahead, it’s truly a miracle that he is now breathing on his own. I am overwhelmed with the love and support that we have received, and I want to thank everyone for your positive thoughts, prayers, and continued support.”

In a statement to Queerty, Zupanick said, “They’re currently monitoring John, and he’s doing very well at the moment. I’m so relieved, and we’re taking it day by day.”

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At a press conference yesterday, President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for downplaying the risk posed by the virus in the early days of the pandemic, appeared to change tack, warning the US, “I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. This is going to be a very, very painful two weeks.”

For the latest advice on COVID-19, check the CDC and WHO websites.