A 34-year-old father who was in a coma fighting the coronavirus for 22 days is finally reunited with his wife: ‘It was like a first date’

Michael’s homecoming, April 19. Abbie Sophia
  • Michael Goldsmith, a 34-year-old husband and father in New Jersey, was in a medically-induced coma and on a ventilator for 22 days while fighting a severe case of COVID-19.
  • While unconscious, his family and community fought for access to remdesivir, which they feared was his last chance of survival.
  • Eventually, Gilead, the company that manufactures the drug, made remdesivir more accessible, but doctors said it was too late for Goldsmith to benefit. Goldsmith recovered without it, and doctors don’t know exactly why.
  • Business Insider talked to Goldsmith and his wife, Elana, a few days after he returned home about how the experience has changed them.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Elana Goldsmith had butterflies. After 22 days of only seeing her husband Michael’s ventilated and unconscious body through an iPad, she was about to see him in the flesh, and alive.

He had been battling a severe case of COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, while his family and community advocated for access to the drug remdesivir, which they thought might be his only chance of survival. Michael had been denied the drug twice due to a “bureaucratic glitch,” Michael’s father-in-law Dr. Jack Stroh previously told Business Insider.

But for reasons unknown to doctors, and called a “miracle” by Michael’s family, the 34-year-old of Bergenfield, New Jersey, recovered without the drug and was finally able to see his family after a period of time that, to him, could have been two days or two years.

“I was so nervous,” Elana told Busines Insider about standing in the hospital lobby that day. “It was almost like a first date. I was excited and happy and nervous and apprehensive.”

But after they got in the car and returned home to reunite Michael with their two kids, it set in that it was her husband, not a strange new man, who was back again. Watching the kids see him “made the whole ordeal a little better,” Elana said. “We’re so happy to have him home.”

Michael’s happy to be home, too, cherishing simple moments like snuggling with the family while watching TV. “It’s the little things that you hope for and I would say ‘you dream about,'” Michael said, “but after going through the coma, I don’t know for sure that was the case.”

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The Goldsmith family pre-coronavirus. Courtesy of the Goldsmith family

While Michael was fighting for his life, his family was fighting a pharmaceutical company

That “whole ordeal” began March 11, when Michael came down with a mild fever and dizziness, and lasted until April 19, the day he returned home.

In between he was put on a ventilator and into a medically-induced coma at Hackensack University Hospital, and treated with a variety of therapies, including antimalarials and antibiotics that all failed.

His family and community fought for access to remdesivir, which he was denied first because Gilead had just revoked its compassionate-use program and second because, presumably, he’d been intubated too long to qualify for clinical trial participation.

The family even started a started a “physician’s petition” calling on President Donald Trump to invoke the Defence Production Act to require Gilead to provide a solution for severely ill young patients who don’t meet the criteria to be in a remdesivir clinical trial.

“We’ve tried to marshal the forces of government officials, biopharma, and the financial world to try to put pressure on Gilead to look at this sanely and logically and realise that there’s a gap here and that innocent lives are going to be endangered because of this bureaucratic decision,” Stroh previously told Business Insider in late March. “So far, it has failed.”

Eventually, though, it succeeded, and Gilead loosened its restrictions to allow patients like Michael to access the medication, which the family is grateful for. But Michael himself was too far into the illness to benefit, and his doctors had started Actemra, a drug used to rheumatoid arthritis, instead.

“We were at the ‘what the hell?’ point,” Elana said. “We didn’t have anything to lose.”

Learning about all the family went through has made Michael more “emotional,” he said. “I didn’t know this whole battle and struggle that Alana went through. It’s definitely a weird experience to say the least, but Elana has been a rock through it.”

It could take years for doctors to understand why Michael turned around

Around April 7, doctors started dialling down Michael’s ventilator, little by little. He’d “yo-yo” between seeming to improve during the day and declining at night, said Elana, who was able to see her husband via the iPad and, along with their kids, talk to him in videos clinicians and hospital staffers would hold up to his ear.

“One thing I remember is … our son sent me a video trying to tell me he lost a tooth,” Michael said. “I remember that from during the coma.”

By April 12, Michael was healthy enough to be extubated, though he doesn’t remember anything before April 13. “It was a surreal experience,” he said. On Sunday, April 19, he returned home.

In New York City, 80 per cent of people on ventilators die. Another study suggested the rate could be as high as 90%. “The longer you are on a ventilator, the less likely that you will ever come off that ventilator,” Cuomo said in an April briefing.

Doctors don’t know why Michael recovered, Elana said. It could have been the long-term supportive care, a reflection of the virus finally running its course and subsiding, receiving hydroxychloroquine early on, the Actemra, or all of the above.

“It could take years for them to understand,” Elana said.

Michael G waving

‘We have a second chance’

Elana credits the whole hospital staff for helping her and Michael get through it. The doctors and nurses worked around the clock, she said, learning more about what might help by the hour and suiting up to enter Michael’s room and put a phone by his ear.

A nurse’s aid held Michael’s hand when the family couldn’t. And clinicians and patient advocates kept in touch with Elana regularly, providing updates on Michael’s condition and seeing how she was faring. “They had to become social workers and therapists for families too,” she said.

Elana’s also grateful for the broader community who supported her family, including neighbours and members of their synagogue who were praying for them to doctors she’d never met who reached out to offer potential solutions.

“The one thing that helped me through this was knowing I wasn’t alone,” she said. “The response and the kindness … was so amazing and so unprecedented. It really helped me continue to hope.”

Her message to other families facing a similar struggle is to find a way to hold onto that hope. Coming out the other side, she said, has given the family “a second chance; it’s like a rebirth in a way.”

“It’s given us a new perspective on life,” she added, “and we’re not going to take it for granted at all.”