Interview with Gary Reloj: Coronavirus Survivor Delivering PPE
Gary Reloj is Co-founder of the PPE Relief Initiative, an entrepreneur in the tech startup and restaurant industry, a founding board member of The Promise Society, and a COVID-19 survivor.
In late March, Gary shared a public Facebook post, that was a very well-documented account of COVID-19 symptoms he’d experienced, the toll it took on his body, and specific things that he did to cope with the physical discomfort, and anxiety that it brought on. He had come down with symptoms early on, even before New York City went on lockdown and when testing was still not widely available. It was clear that he had written his post as a way to help others who had also contracted COVID-19 or were worried about possibly contracting it. In the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, every little cough, sniffle or bit of malaise sent a lot of us into a panic.
Around that time, I also learned that Gary was spearheading an effort to get PPE (personal protective equipment) to health care workers. That effort became the PPE Relief Initiative (PRI) with a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to raise $30,000 to give PPE kits to 400 healthcare workers.
Here’s a little preview of what we talked about in this podcast episode:
- How Gary dealt with and recovered from having COVID-19
- The Facebook post that Gary wrote and publicly shared detailing his COVID-19 symptoms and the regime he followed in dealing with his symptoms
- What motivated Gary to start looking for a way to deliver PPE to healthcare workers
- Gary’s PPE Relief Initiative Co-founder Dr. Joanne Kwan
- How they determined what to include in the PPE Relief Initiative supply kit that they were going to give health care workers
- The challenges they encountered in obtaining high quality PPE
- The PRI team
- Why the PRI supply kits are delivered directly to health care workers rather than to hospitals
- The GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign for PRI to raise $30,000 to support 400 healthcare workers
- There is still room for around 200 for healthcare workers that live or work in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area and are dealing with COVID-19 patients to apply for the PRI supply kits
- How they prioritize which healthcare workers will receive the PRI supply kits first
- The partnership with The Promise Society on the PRI’s GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign
- PRI’s support for Black Lives Matter protesters and tips for how protestors should protect themselves and be safe while protesting during this pandemic
- Being prepared for a possible second wave of COVID-19 cases
- What’s next for PRI after the GoFundMe campaign
- How having COVID-19 has affected Gary’s outlook on life
PPE Relief Initiative’s GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign: http://pperelief.org/donate
Gary’s Facebook post detailing how he dealt with COVID-19:
Cuomo’s words really resonated with me and I used the phrase “New York Tough” to help get my mind right and out of the negative mental trench I was in. If you have Covid-19 or someone you know has it, and you’re looking for someone to talk to about the experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out. When I was at my worst, I was partly in a bad place mentally because I felt so helpless and clueless as to how long my symptoms were going to last. I seriously wish I had someone I could talk to at a human level that could relate to what I was experiencing so if I could do that for you, please let me know.
That said, here is the full list of symptoms I experienced…
-Fever (ranged between 100 and 102). My fever lasted for four days.
-Chronic dry coughing. It came from deep within my chest and at times, would have bad coughing fits. One coughing session was so bad, my core stomach muscles cramped up and I started to gag because I just couldn’t breathe…. That really sucked!
-Difficulty breathing. This was the big one. Any form of simple physical activity would make it hard to breathe; you almost feel like you’re drowning it’s like an asthma attack. If I got out of bed to go to the bathroom, or if I would try to eat food, I would be gasping for air with short, shallow, quick breaths. It was extremely difficult to take deep breaths (still is to an extent). The only way I’d be able to breath normally would be to lay down in bed on my side.
-Dehydration. This was especially bad when I was on my 2nd day of my fever and was coughing up a storm.
-Chills. This also occurred on the 2nd and 3rd day of my fever.
-Loss of appetite. Not only was I not hungry, but when I did eat, it was actually hard to breathe while eating, so that contributed to my loss of appetite.
-Confusion. This again was on the 2nd day, early in the morning. I just woke up and I felt like I was still in dream mode, and I kept trying to tell my body move, but it felt like I was stuck and was confused to where I was.
-Loss of smell. My taste was also a bit dulled, especially with sweets.
-Body aches. This was actually my first symptom. It first started with body aches like sciatica. I then had back pains, lower and upper back.
-Anxiety. There were moments where my mind was in a very bad place, especially when it was very hard to breathe. I started to get anxiety thinking about every breathe and as a result, it would disrupt my breathing cycle. When I would have major anxiety, I would try to calm myself by playing meditation music and do my best to have my mind escape reality for a minute to help regulate my breathing again. Eventually, as a way to combat future anxiety, I would create structure around me to keep me busy and help me cope. For example, I documented all my symptoms under a certain timeline, I documented my medication and tried to create a set schedule, and I made sure to reach out to friends for support.
Here’s the lineup of meds I took and how often:
-Tylenol Extra Strength, 3000mg daily, or 2 pills 3x a day. This was probably the most important thing I was taking.
-Mucinex DM, 1 tablet every 12 hours. This helped act as a cough suppressant.
-Cepacol Extra Strength. Take as needed. This helped numb my throat. While I know my coughing originated more from my chest and not my throat, it gave me peace of mind to take Cepacol before I slept.
-Pedialyte. Unfortunately I didn’t have any, but my friend who also had Covid-19 was using it to help with dehydration and if I could do it all over again, I would have included it in my rotation.
-Ton of water. I can’t stress how important it is to have available water by your side. I would have a big pitcher of water by my bed at all times and when I could manage to get out of bed, I always made sure to re-fill my pitcher even if it’s 70% full.
Here’s the timeline of everything (this was the diary I kept).
03/11: Suspected date of exposure
03/14: Noticed body aches, like sciatica.
03/15: Back aches, lower and upper back. Mild diarrhea.
03/16: Experience slight fatigue. Back pain and sciatica pain increases. Start to have mild cough.
03/18: Lose sense of smell. Fatigue increases big time. Cough starts to become more frequent. Start to feel warm under eyelids at night. Mild diarrhea continues. Appetite still normal.
03/19: Cough and fatigue becomes worse. Headaches occur.
03/20: Chronic coughing begins. Fever occurs 101 degrees. Loss of appetite begins.
03/21: Very bad coughing fits, difficulty breathing. Fever still at 101 degrees. Extremely fatigued. Experienced cold chills as well. Further loss of appetite. Difficulty sleeping.
03/22: Coughing is still terrible, at times difficult to breathe. Energy and appetite was okay in the morning, decreased as day progressed. Difficulty sleeping. Breathing is still bad.
03/23: Becoming more thirsty. Woke up and fever wasn’t so bad. Early evening suffered worst coughing fit. Night fever is back, 101. Worst night of sleep. Breathing is still bad.
03/24: Lower back really hurts, but could be due to uncomfortable bed. Felt better for most of the day, around 3:30pm start to feel worse. Managed to get myself under control after taking Tylenol and shower around 3:40pm. Improved appetite and energy. No fever. Breathing ability hasn’t improved.
03/25: Breathing is still effected. The simplest form of physical activity creates shallow breathing, elevated breathing rates.
03/26: Energy and appetite continues to improve. Coughing slightly improved; starting to produce some phlegm. Breathing is still the same. 3rd day of no fever. Spoke with Doctor, said plateau of symptoms is a good sign, as Covid-19 is progressive in nature. Still have diarrhea.
03/27: Feel exponentially better. Breathing is much improved, although still can’t take deep breaths without coughing. Coughing overall is down. Again, no fever. Energy is up, able to sit up without trouble, was able to walk and spend time outside.
03/28: Diarrhea seems improved. Still coughing a little. Breathing still improved. Still no fever.
Anyway, I hope all this helps! AND STAY HOME!!
(This post which originally appeared on Gary’s Facebook feed has been sighty edited)
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