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'I literally thought I wasn’t gonna make it': 29-year-old Ga. nurse, bodybuilder on ventilator for COVID-19 improves

An Atlanta nurse practitioner is in recovery after almost losing his life to the coronavirus. He spent nearly 10 days in the ICU battling for his life.

ATLANTA — While intubated with breathing tubes down his throat, Quawn James took a selfie. He didn’t know if he would make it out alive, but he knew what he wanted to do with the picture if he did.

“I knew I needed to take a picture. I knew that if I did make it, I was gonna make a post and say ‘Yea, you’ve got someone here with no health problems at all, health care provider, physically healthy and this is what happened to me,'" said James.

It started about three weeks ago when the 29-year-old nurse practitioner and avid flag football player thought he had a cold. He had a fever, chills and body aches. At the time, no coughing or shortness of breath.

He admitted himself into the Emory St. Joseph campus near Dunwoody, where he worked in its ER for nearly five years.

RELATED: Coronavirus updates: US death toll eclipses China's official count

At first, staff diagnosed him with pneumonia. The hospital tested him for COVID-19 by putting a cotton swab in the back of his nose. It came back negative.

James asked for another test. This time, staff took a sample of his mucus from the back of throat. That test confirmed he had COVID-19.

About that same time, James couldn’t breathe on his own. The virus also caused his heart to enlarge.

The scariest moment, though, happened when his breathing tube clogged -- cutting off his oxygen.

“At that moment in time, I did not think I was going to make it because it took a while for the nurses to get in there,” said James.

The virus caught James by surprise because he does not have any underlying health conditions. He’s competed in bodybuilding events and watches what he puts in his body. 

“Before this, I had not even had a cold in eight years. So, for this to happen, it was very shocking,” James said.

Credit: WXIA

RELATED: Why you're not seeing COVID-19 recovery numbers in Georgia

While in the ICU, James said he could not receive visitors. Even some hospital staff were nervous about coming into his room. 

“When you’re in the hospital, and in isolation, it feels like you’re left behind. Like, no one wants to come into your room because you have to put on all this gear,” said James. “I got to the point where I just asked the nurse if she can just leave stuff at the door and they actually did it. Like, they wouldn’t come inside there.”

James is not sure how he contracted the virus. He specializes in addiction and mental health recovery. So, he currently does not work in a traditional hospital setting.

After nearly 10 days in the ICU, James is now home. He posted the picture he took of himself intubated on social media to warn other young people who don’t think they’re at risk, that this could happen to them.

“As someone as healthy as I was, I was literally on my death bed. And I’m trying to tell people they need to take care of themselves and they need to take this seriously,” said James.

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus.  We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information. 

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information. 


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