Coronavirus patient thanks St George Hospital staff who saved his life

Lifesaving team: Joseph Tannous, (fourth from left) returned to St George Hospital yesterday to thank staff for the life-saving treatment he received after contracting coronavirus, (from left) Dr Yizhong Zheng, Julia Maclean, Clare Loveday, Rebecca Tyson and Dr Doris Lam. Picture: Supplied
Lifesaving team: Joseph Tannous, (fourth from left) returned to St George Hospital yesterday to thank staff for the life-saving treatment he received after contracting coronavirus, (from left) Dr Yizhong Zheng, Julia Maclean, Clare Loveday, Rebecca Tyson and Dr Doris Lam. Picture: Supplied

For Joseph Tannous, the first sign something was seriously wrong was feeling short of breath.

It was March 21, and Mr Tannous, then 49 and a fit and healthy businessman from Brighton-Le-Sands, had tested positive for coronavirus four days earlier.

Mr Tannous, who is often described as a Liberal Party powerbroker, had started to suspect he could be infected after reports emerged that Federal MP and Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton had tested positive to COVID-19. The pair attended the same Liberal Party event on March 10, although Mr Tannous is now at pains to say there is no way of knowing how he became infected, given the number of events he attends.

But it was enough to make him visit St George Hospital on March 15 to get tested. By then, he'd had a dry cough for two days. He would soon get other symptoms, including vomiting.

But it was the decision to go to hospital that probably saved his life.

"I was finding it very difficult to breathe so I texted my partner and said 'Call an ambulance'," Mr Tannous said.

Even then, he was not overly concerned. But after 60 litres of oxygen failed to improve his condition, doctors at St George Hospital gave him some grim news.

"They came to me and said 'What we are doing is not working. We need to take a different approach'," he said.

"They said they would have to intubate me and put tubes down my throat to help me breathe.

"I did ask, 'Am I going to come out the other end?' They just said 'We will do our best'."

Mr Tannous was given a few minutes to let his family know what was happening. He was able to call his partner and eldest daughter.

"I said 'This is what they are doing. I love you both and see you soon'," he recalls.

Then he prayed.

Mr Tannous would spend the next two weeks in the hospital's intensive care unit battling COVID-19 related pneumonia.

For 10 of those days he was critically ill, in an induced coma and requiring a ventilator to breathe.

During that time, his two brothers took turns keeping a constant vigil outside his room.

Twice his family were told he might not pull through and a priest was called to pray outside.

Mr Tannous has two memories of this time. Once, when a nurse asked him to squeeze her hand if he would like to listen to music, and a second when another nurse told him to squeeze her hand while they removed his breathing tube as his brother spoke to him over speaker phone.

Mr Tannous finally woke up on April 1 - April Fool's Day. The date is not lost on him, nor is the date he first got symptoms - Friday the 13th of March.

The father-of-three children aged 26, 22 and 12, was finally discharged from hospital on April 7 and is continuing to recover at home.

He celebrated his 50th birthday on Saturday, April 25, a low-key affair but a milestone he feels fortunate to have reached.

He believes three things saved his life - the love of his family; the prayers of the Maronite church community; and the doctors and health professionals who cared for him.

Yesterday, he returned to St George Hospital to thank the team that saved his life.

"We have the best health system in the world," he said.

He took along 10 fruit and vegetable boxes for staff as a token of his appreciation for the exceptional care he received. He had tried to purchase the boxes but MD Providores and Sydney Markets insisted on donating them.

"I'm so grateful to everyone at St George Hospital for the care I received and I would like to thank all of the staff as they are such an amazing team, including the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and speech pathologists - everyone is incredible at their jobs," Mr Tannous said.

He also has a message for anyone who thinks COVID-19 won't affect them.

"I think it's very important that people, particularly younger people, stop taking the attitude that it won't happen to them and coronavirus will only cause serious health problems for those who are elderly," Mr Tannous said.

"I want people to know that this virus can cause severe illness to anyone, so people need to take this seriously."

St George Hospital nurse manager - intensive care services Clare Loveday said Mr Tannous was critically unwell when he arrived at hospital.

"Mr Tannous's first symptom was a dry cough when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 but within six days his condition deteriorated, making it very difficult for him to breathe," Ms Loveday said.

"Even though Mr Tannous has no medical co-morbidities and is normally very healthy and fit, he became critically unwell and required mechanical ventilation to support his breathing."

St George Hospital acting general manager Rebecca Tyson said the staff were thrilled to see Mr Tannous on the road to recovery.

"Our staff are working harder than ever at the moment and it certainly lifts everyone's spirits when their hard work is appreciated, but nothing makes us happier as healthcare workers than seeing a patient recover," she said.