A Covid skeptic says his view of the virus changed after his mother spent nine weeks in the ICU with a feeding tube – 22 days of which she was in a coma.
Damian Cassaniti’s mother, Tina, of Five Dock in western Sydney, regained consciousness in mid-August when doctors told her she was lucky to be alive.
The 72-year-old cannot remember her mammoth fight with the Delta variant of Covid and at first thought she was paralyzed in a car accident when she woke up unable to feel her arms and legs.
‘My mother is making good progress. She has now been in hospital for nine weeks, they are looking at two to three more weeks before she can leave,” Mr Cassaniti told the Daily Mail Australia.
The grandmother has regained her ability to speak, but now has to learn to walk again with the help of physiotherapy because her muscles are so weakened.
“She had her feeding tube removed on Monday and had her first proper meal, so that’s good,” Mr Cassaniti added.
Tina Cassaniti spent nine weeks in hospital (pictured) after catching Covid at a party
The retired driving instructor contracted the virus three weeks before her first vaccine booking after attending a birthday party for a teenage relative at the Crossroads Hotel in Casula, Liverpool, on July 23.
Ms Cassaniti had been very careful not to leave the house for 18 months as she suffers from asthma and shopped online but thought Covid was under control.
Despite the Delta variant appearing in the eastern suburbs from mid-June, a shutdown for Greater Sydney was not announced until June 26.
Ms Cassaniti returned a positive Covid test a day later on June 27, and nurses from RPA began monitoring her breathing and heart rate remotely.
When her fever reached 40°C, she was rushed to hospital and kept in an artificial coma for 22 days to allow her body to fight off the virus.
When she was awakened from sedation over the course of a week, doctors had to perform a tracheotomy to compensate for her weakened respiratory muscles.
A relieved Mr Cassaniti, who is video calling his mother, said the experience has shaken him to the core and changed his view of the virus.
“I was skeptical about Covid before, but to see with my own eyes it has changed my whole perspective,” Mr Cassaniti said.
“I wasn’t on board to get vaccinated, but once you see a loved one go through that, anything is good that some kind of shield can provide,” he said.
The retired driving instructor said she had been extremely careful not to leave her home for 18 months until she went to the meeting just before the Delta outbreak in Sydney emerged.
He received his second vaccination shot on Tuesday and is urging others to do the same.
‘Don’t be so blasé, real people get this virus. This isn’t the flu, think that multiplied by 10, 20, 30. Gasping for breath, loss of taste and smell, fever and migraines, constant coughing, it’s much worse.’
He has yet to visit the hospital in person and his two young children have been unable to visit their grandmother due to strict quarantine protocols.
She is being cared for at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where only specially trained staff are admitted to the ‘Covid Red’ intensive care unit.
The facility in the shell of a former day surgery unit was built with the help of a team of builders, engineers, infection control experts, nurses and security personnel, porters, and anesthesia and ventilation teams.
When the 19-bed ward was completed in March, there were no patients, but since the Delta outbreak began in Sydney, staff have been pushed to full capacity.
Mr Cassaniti said the nurses were a “gift from heaven” in taking care of the patients.
Damian Cassaniti (left) said he was skeptical before but after his mother Tina (right) was in a coma for 22 days, he wants people to take vaccination seriously
“Hospitals are overcrowded and staff are limited. The nurses take care of patients, do physio, monitor them. They do everything and are overwhelmed. I called and sometimes they couldn’t answer because they were so pumped.’
Intensive Care Specialist and ICU Co-Director at RPA, Dr. Richard Totaro, said the staff had increased the pressure due to the contagiousness of the Delta tribe.
“Nurses are absolutely essential… taking care of Covid patients is very hard work. You’re in layers of PPE, which is hot. It’s hard work, it’s physical work,” he said.
He added that doctors who perform procedures such as intubation — in which a breathing tube is inserted into the throat — often work in an adrenaline rush directly over an infectious patient and have a high risk of infection.
Employees in the department are assigned a ‘buddy’ who ensures that the other person follows the disinfection procedures closely, such as carefully donning and donning personal protective equipment.
dr. Totaro also urged people to get vaccinated as this would not only protect them from Covid but also take the pressure off hospital wards.
“There’s really good evidence from around the world that the vaccinations we have available, that once people are vaccinated, the hospitalizations go away, the need for IC goes away and death goes away,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday that 500,000 additional Pfizer doses have been secured from Singapore and that the Australian government will send the amount to them in December.
“That means there will be 500,000 extra doses in September that would otherwise have been several months,” said Mr Morrison.
Mr Cassaniti (pictured) received his second Covid vaccination on Tuesday
He added that the shipment would complement 4.5 million doses of Pfizer and 1 million Moderna injections due to arrive in September.
Australia aims for a vaccination coverage of 70 to 80 percent of the population aged 16 years and older.
In addition to AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, bookings for the Moderna vaccine have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and will be available Sept. 13.
While Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s levels of protection have been shown to slowly decline, requiring booster shots, the Moderna variant has been shown to maintain strong 90 percent Covid protection after six months.
Australia currently has an agreement to obtain 10 million Moderna vaccines and another 15 million Moderna booster vaccines.