Lawrence Garbuz was the first person diagnosed with COVID-19 in the early epicenter of New Rochelle, New York. He was dubbed as “patient zero.”
The 50-year-old lawyer spoke with Today about his experience with coronavirus, including his symptoms, hospitalization, and recovery.
Garbuz was in a coma for three weeks and isn’t sure how he contracted the virus.
Lawrence Garbuz says he is thankful to be alive after battling COVID-19. The 50-year-old lawyer, who tested positive for the novel coronavirus in March, was identified as “patient zero” in New Rochelle, New York—an early epicenter in the state.
Garbuz said he first realized something wasn’t right when he woke up with a slight cough and a low-grade fever in late February. “I had no intention of going to work. I went to the doctor and he examined me and he said I needed to go immediately to the emergency room,” he revealed in an exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie on Today.
“I just thought I had a cough,” he recalled. “Look, I’m a lawyer. I sit at a desk all day. I think at the time we were sort of focusing on individuals who had maybe traveled internationally, something that I had not done. I had certainly not been to China.”
That’s also one reason Garbuz’s doctor did not initially suspect coronavirus, as much of the focus was on people who had traveled to hotspots outside of the U.S.
“After we entered the emergency room, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired until I woke up from the coma,” he said. “So it’s as if three weeks of my life had completely disappeared, and I was asleep for all of it.”
His wife, Adina, was also shocked. “We thought, ‘Okay, you have pneumonia. We’ll get some medicine and you come home.’ And over the weekend it increasingly got worse and worse,” she said. “He was struggling to breathe. I was trying to keep him calm. You feel awful, and it’s scary.”
She also was surprised with how quickly her husband’s condition worsened overnight, as he’s “a healthy, vibrant person” with no pre-existing health conditions that they know of.
He was transferred to New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, and his wife ensured that he stayed intubated while riding in the ambulance. “He was suffering, and I couldn’t watch it,” she said. But Gabruz said she saved him during the stressful journey. “She is a person who solves problems quickly, with a smile,” he said.
The hospital restricted visitors while Garbuz recovered, but family photos were hung in his room to make sure he felt loved. He’s especially thankful to all of the doctors and nurses who cared for him.
Adina recalled the emotional moment of when he finally woke up from the coma, three weeks after his initial symptoms began. “All he cared about was his family,” she said, holding back tears. “The first words he said to me was, ‘I love you.’ That’s it.”
His daughter, Ella, added that it’s a miracle to have her father home again as he continues to focus on his recovery. “I appreciate life a lot more,” Gabruz said. “Every day is an absolute gift that God has given every one of us to enjoy.”
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