CAMDEN, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Manchester Township Officer Antonio Ellis was one of New Jersey's first severe cases of COVID-19 back in March 2020.
Not only is he grateful to be alive, but on Monday he made a special surprise visit back to the hospital where doctors and nurses saved his life.
Healthcare workers cheered on Officer Ellis as he arrived at Cooper University Health Care to thank the team who saved him.
Ellis was one of the first patients at Cooper to receive a treatment called ECMO, a life-support system that has been used to save some of the most critically ill COVID-19 patients.
"These are my heroes. They go to work every day and they do their job and I can appreciate that from my profession as well. And it's a thankless job sometimes. When I woke up, I was in that ICU fog. I was in that delirium. I didn't really understand what had happened and how it was happening, so I missed a lot of this. This is the first time I'm actually awake and alive and alert at Cooper and I'm really happy about this. So we're going to spend some time today with everybody else and catch up, like old friends. They are my family now," he said.
The 43-year-old was unconscious for 30 days, spent 45 days in the ICU, and went into cardiac arrest three times. During weeks of physical therapy, he had to relearn basic skills like speaking, walking and brushing his teeth.
It wasn't until one year later in March 2021 that he returned to full active duty.
And in the spirit of paying it forward, he's part of an ICU survivor group where he Zooms with current patients.