NAT SC Michael with his wife Jiji Malayan-1597675283989
Michael Malayan with his wife Jiji and sons Jule and Mikee. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Michael Malayan, 45, a COVID-19 survivor, is so grateful to be alive that he doesn’t mind the excruciating rehabilitation exercises that he has to put up with every day to get back his muscle tone and relearn basic things like walking, standing, turning and spot jogging. But he is happy to begin from a scratch and thankful to the medical team of King’s College Hospital (KCH), Dubai Hills, who pulled him from the jaws of death.

Testing positive despite all precautions

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Malayan, an engineer with a construction company, who came to Dubai in 2018 for his second stint, was in hospital for nearly a month in April. He had not only suffered respiratory failure, but had to be sedated and put on a mechanical ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for nearly ten days and was on oxygen support throughout the 20 days’ stay in the coronavirus ward of the hospital.

Malayan, who followed all protocols of wearing masks and social distancing and hand sanitising, still has no clue as to how he got infected. Recounting his story, he said: “It was the third week of March when we had started working from home intermittently. On the days I took the public transport to my office at Business Bay, I was very careful to follow all protocols. In our office, we had hand sanitisers in every room and people followed the rules completely. I got up one morning feeling very dizzy and nauseous and then had some dry cough,” said Malayan whose wife and two sons live in Iloilo City in the Philippines. He has a brother and his sisters here in Dubai.

Help! Respiratory arrest!

After about a couple of days when Malayan did not feel better, he went in for a nasal swab test. “There was so much information about COVID-19 on the social media that I had quarantined myself at home from Day One when I felt uneasy. I began working from home. However, my test for COVID-19 at a local clinic came negative. But I was not feeling well, I had fever and breathlessness. I went in for a second swab test at another hospital by end March and that was positive. I immediately went to Rashid Hospital. It was the first week of April by then. Too much time had passed and my condition got worst. I could not breathe and collapsed. I don’t remember much, but I know I was transferred to KCH in the first week of April.”

Mechanical ventilator to the rescue

Dr Julio Gomes-Seco

Dr Julio Gomes-Seco, consultant pulmonologist at KCH, shared the crucial details of those days when Malayan was in induced coma: “On April 5, Michael was brought in an ambulance from Rashid Hospital where he had suffered a respiratory arrest, was revived and moved. When he came to us, he had all the signs of going through a cytokine storm. His oxygen saturation was very low, so we instantly sedated him, had to intubate him, put him on a mechanical ventilator and place him in the ICU. His condition was very serious.

NAT SC COVID Survivor Michael Malayan-1597675280099
Michael Malayan's lungs have healed 90 per cent and are getting better by the day. Image Credit: Supplied

“He remained on the mechanical ventilator for ten days and in coma all through. He was fed through a tube going into his stomach and eventually with gradual weaning through the days we were able to completely wean him off mechanical ventilation on April 16, when he was shifted to the COVID ward. He still required high pressure oxygen through a cannula for the next one week. But Michael really fought back. His muscles were wasted completely, being immobile for so long. He worked really hard for the physical rehabilitation exercises that he was put through at the hospital and slowly was able to stand on his own and walk. On April 26, he was discharged after he underwent two negative tests for COVID 19.”

Life after COVID-19

Malayan, who loved running, decided to work on building his strength slowly once he got back home on April 26. “COVID-19, like any other grave illness, takes everything from you. I felt so exhausted and tired a weak after I returned from the hospital. For the first 14 days, I was in quarantine at a hotel and just slept, ate and spoke to my family in the Philippines and my siblings here over video chats. Connecting with family was like therapy as I felt it gave me great hope. Hope and prayers are the biggest anchors when you are recovering. I had to set small physical goals for life — such as being able to stand, walk slowly, do spot-jogging. I took care of my nutrition too, making sure to have healthy food. By June I, was able to walk normally and I was able to resume running outdoors. Although it is nowhere near my pre-COVID standards, I am still thrilled to be able to run again,” said Malayan who continues to work from home.

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A miraculous recovery

Dr Seco said that when Malayan was at the peak of his illness, his lungs were badly damaged; “However, in subsequent follow-ups, Michael has shown amazing recovery. His lungs have healed 90 per cent and are getting better by the day. This is nothing short of a miracle as many patients have to live with partial lung fibrosis after the havoc wreaked on their respiratory system. Many may also require lung transplants later. But in case of Michael, he is in the clear and has done very well for himself,” said Dr Seco.

Michael’s 10 commandments for survival:

• After you return a negative test result, you have to be positive about life.

• The first 14 days in isolation were tough, but it was important to keep oneself organised.

• Don’t lose hope, take one day at a time and baby steps to recovery.

• Focus on good nutrition and ample rest. These two are important on the path to healing.

• Have gratitude, be thankful to the almighty for the gift of life.

• Reconnect with family and relatives. If alone, make it a point to speak to them over phone or on video calls.

• Draw up a physical rehabilitation schedule and start with small things to build up strength and stamina. I started with small walks, spot-jogs and now I am running.

• Keep yourself busy to keep depression at bay. When one is recovering one does feel vulnerable, but maintaining a proper work schedule can help keep your mind away from negative thoughts.

• For those who have been spared the dangers of COVID, do not let irrational fear and rumours worry you. Coronavirus can be conquered. Remember causes more damage than the actual illness.

• Respect and follow all health and safety protocols that have been introduced. Wear your mask when you step outside, if required wear gloves also. Maintain social distancing, wash your hands with soap and sanitise them as a routine exercise. If at all you feel unwell, it is your responsibility to get tested and also to isolate yourself to avoid transmitting the disease. Seek medical help without any delay.