The COVID-19 survival story of Ted O'Brien | WHEC.com

The COVID-19 survival story of Ted O'Brien

Berkeley Brean
Updated: June 25, 2020 06:37 PM
Created: June 25, 2020 06:32 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A lot of you know Ted O'Brien or know his name. He's a former state senator and current assistant state attorney general for Rochester. 

Two months ago he was dying from COVID-19, but as News10NBC learned his turnaround is part medicine and part miracle. 

Ted O'Brien tested positive for COVID-19 in early March. He had no fever and his symptoms were sold mild, he was actually quarantining at home. But one night he passed out and his wife rushed him to the emergency at RGH. The last thing he remembers is walking through the front doors.

O'Brien spent the next four weeks hooked up to a ventilator and in a coma. 

Brean: "I was going to ask you when you realized you were in serious trouble. I'm wondering if you even knew that?"

O'Brien: "I didn't really know. I mean when I woke up four weeks later and talking to my wife I had no idea I had been in a coma.

His wife, Sue, describes the time as "hopeless, helpless and scary." She posted updates on Facebook regularly and coped by getting regular daily updates from doctors. "And I had to prepare myself for the worst," she said. 

Things were so serious at one point, a "do not resuscitate" order was signed. 

Brean: "You had no idea this was going on."

O'Brien: "Right."

Brean: "In retrospect, you do. When you hear those measures were taken, those conversations were happening, what do you think?"

O'Brien: "It shows me how close I really was, how serious an illness I had."

O'Brien thinks three things saved his life. 

First, an anti-inflammatory drug called dexamethasone.

Second, a courageous doctor, Dr. Shuylin Liang, who risked exposure to the virus giving him a tracheotomy. That helped him wean off the ventilator. 

O'Brien met Dr. Liang and nurses at the ICU Monday. 

"People were breaking into tears. It was really emotional for some people," he said. "It was emotional to know these people laid it all out for me."

The third reason was the miracle. 

When O'Brien was in a coma, Dr. Adam Herman laid his personal cell phone on O'Brien's pillow so his family could talk to him. O'Brien recalled a dream he kept having, hearing his brother in law's voice. 

O'Brien: "I did have a persistent dream where I was hearing the voice of my brother in law in the dream. I thought I was in a house and unable to move. I didn't know I was in a hospital in my dream. But I was in a house, unable to move. I heard my brother in law's voice at a time when I was so hot and exhausted in my dream that I said out loud —I don't know if I'm going to make it through the night. And then I heard my brother in law's voice. And the sense of relief that washed over me allowed me to relax and get some sleep and I think may very well have been critical to my successful outcome."

Weeks later, he was awake.

O'Brien: "I asked my wife, was my brother in law on these phone calls? She said, oh absolutely. He talked to you everyday."

Sue O'Brien, Ted O'Brien's wife: "You hear the stories that people in comas can hear. He heard us."

Dr. Adam Herman, Dir. Palliative Care Services Rochester Regional Health: "Sometimes we think it's the fancy things we do in the hospital that make all the difference. But sometimes it just comes down to good old fashion bedside care and connecting families to their loved ones."

When O'Brien left rehab on May 27, just standing up could make him nauseous and out of breath. Now he walks more than two miles a day. He's back home with his family, including two teenage daughters. 

"Sometimes I found myself wondering, why me? Why did I get hit so hard?" he asked.

But he thinks about the people who were in the rooms next to him that did not survive.

"And I feel so lucky in that sense that, why me? Why did I survive?" he asked.

As the head of the New York State Attorney General's office in the Rochester area, Ted O'Brien works in an office downtown across from the Hall of Justice. He told me his plan is to come back to work part-time in a couple of weeks. 

Ted and Sue O'Brien are raising money so Rochester Regional Health can use technology to help connect families and patients. They've already raised $40,000.

Click here for a link to the fundraising page.  


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