‘If I can beat that, nothing scares me’

Jason Jahanian on his near-death experience with COVID-19

Nick Puckett
npuckett@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 8/25/20

Alone and isolated in an ICU bed, stuck with three IVs, a feeding tube and connected to a ventilator, Jason Jahanian prepared himself to die. “I was in a bad place,” Jahanian said.

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‘If I can beat that, nothing scares me’

Jason Jahanian on his near-death experience with COVID-19

Posted

Alone and isolated in an ICU bed, stuck with three IVs, a feeding tube and connected to a ventilator, Jason Jahanian prepared himself to die.

“I was in a bad place,” Jahanian said.

Just two weeks prior to being admitted to the hospital for COVID-19, Jahanian thought he could beat it.

“I thought, ‘I’m a healthy guy, no preexisting conditions or anything. I’m going to get this knocked out in a week or two,” Jahanian said.

One evening, while Jahanian still battled the disease self-quarantined from his home, he noticed his hands turned white after washing them. At that moment, he said, he began to quietly panic.

“I don’t fit the normal demographic (of being at-risk). That was the confusing thing about it,” Jahanian said. “I was very surprised, more than anything, ‘How is this really happening to me?”

The 41-year-old resident of Lone Tree is an avid runner with a love for the outdoors. He boasts a garage full of mountain bikes, dirt bikes and kayaks — just about anything that can move and can fit. He runs marathons, triathlons and a variety of races as well.

Jahanian developed symptoms March 23. Six days later, he was admitted to Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree.

Before he left, he said goodbye to his daughter and son, who are 8 and 4, not knowing if he would see them again. Jahanian said he avoided that mindset and tried hard to not panic.

He asked his wife, a nurse, what to expect. Maybe he’d be put on oxygen for a few days and come home. When he said goodbye to his wife in the car before being taken in at Sky Ridge, Jahanian thought he couldn’t get much worse.

“I was scared, but I did not want to get myself into a panic mode. I was cautiously optimistic, but who knows?” Jahanian said.

ECMO treatment helped save his life

Jahanian is alive today thanks to a treatment called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

ECMO treatment pumps and oxygenates blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

“I tell patients and their families it’s similar to treating failing kidneys with dialysis,” said Dr. Michael Firstenberg, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Medical Center of Aurora.

The treatment has been recently used as a last resort for patients with a fighting chance of surviving COVID-19.

“It doesn’t cure the problem, but it allows the body to rest and the body gets enough oxygen while the body is healing up from the infection,” Firstenberg said.

The technology to perform ECMO treatment has been around for several decades. In 2009, the treatment was used more to treat patients suffering from H1N1. It is typically used to treat severe lung diseases.

The treatment is not found everywhere; the Medical Center of Aurora is the only area hospital with a fully developed program. ECMO is used about a couple thousand times a year nationwide, Firstenberg said. It is resource-intensive and difficult to do without a proper cardiac surgery department.

“It’s not like every hospital is going to offer it, although that is changing over time,” he said.

‘I just skyrocketed from there’

Jahanian said he remembers bits and pieces of his first day at Sky Ridge. Twenty-two hours after being admitted, doctors hooked him up to a ventilator. Jahanian’s condition continued to worsen in the next few days. On April 7, he transferred to the Medical Center of Aurora.

Jahanian spent one week on ECMO and a ventilator. After the first day of treatment, he began to show signs of slight improvement. The one-week mark is usually where doctors need to determine if the treatment is working or not. After two weeks of the treatment, other vital organs can begin to shut down.

Doctors told Jahanian later that, essentially, his immune system was so good, it continued to attack his organs when the virus was no longer a threat.

“It was my own body doing a lot of the damage to my own body,” Jahanian said.

After nine days on ECMO, doctors gave Jahminin an immune-supressing drug to allow his organs to heal.

One day later, Jahminin showed signs of improvement. The day after that, Jahanian received an injection of convalescent plasma with antibodies.

“I just skyrocketed from there,” Jahanian said.

Jahanian stayed five more days at the hospital before he was released.

For 14 days at the Medical Center of Aurora, Jahanian was asleep. He woke up periodically and believes he captured some images in his dreams. The dreams were the longest and most vivid he’s ever had, he said. Every time, he would dream of his kids and his wife. Sometimes they were nightmare scenarios, where he lay on his deathbed or his entire family died.

“Those dreams hit me pretty hard,” Jahanian said. The dreams were so powerful, he still has to hold back tears when describing them.

Jahanian calls the moment he finally came to after his ECMO and ventilator treatment the moment he “woke up.” When the doctor awakened him, Jahanian believed he was still dreaming. He heard the voice of a doctor telling him where he was and why he was there. He heard his wife and kids were excited to see him, and he shot up in his bed.

“It was the single best moment of my life. Like ‘Oh my God, everything is back. My family is back. Everything is normal,’” Jahanian said.

Jahanian lost 30 pounds. He didn’t have the strength to lift his arms above his head or stand up.

After four days of recovery, Jahanian said he shifted his mentality to regain control of his own body again.

“Yes, I was out of it, but I had this phrase going through my head — ‘You want to feel alive? Look alive!’” Jahanian said. “I said ‘I’m owning this thing. If I’m really doing better, I’m owning it.”

Still COVID-isolated, he walked laps in his hospital room — after three laps he would collapse in his bed for three hours. He looks at a picture of himself at the time, almost unrecognizeable to the clean-cut, built man who came out on the other end.

Jahanian set goals to get back to his old self. He considered it a win when he walked around the block without a walker. He relished saying goodnight to his kids again. He broke down crying when he reached the top of the Bluffs in Lone Tree because he never thought he’d be there ever again.

“I look at that picture at least every other day, and I’m owning it—I’m owning it in the sense that if you can make it through that, you can make it through anything, and it gave every sort of accomplishment so much more meaning,” he said.

Jahanian is back to running and finished his first self-timed marathon Aug. 22 since COVID hit.

“I’m not afraid of anything anymore, in a way,” Jahanian said. “If I can beat that, nothing scares me.”

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