"It was like a plastic bag over your head; you suck out all the air and then you can't breathe."
That's how 60-year-old Mike Santucci of Philadelphia's Fox Chase neighborhood describes the first, major sign of COVID-19 last November. Then his memory goes blank.
He spent months in intensive care, 154 days on a ventilator and his family was on an emotional roller coaster. Keep in mind, this was before vaccines were available.
His daughter Catherine said, "We had a couple of different phone calls that he wasn't going to make it. They were getting ready to have us come say our goodbyes."
But Santucci kept fighting.
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Dr. Bill Pace, his son-in-law's brother, is an infectious disease doctor and became the family medical middleman.
"I had taken care of hundreds, maybe thousands of patients in the hospital. I was kind of used to the sequence of events, but when it's someone close to you, it's a whole different perspective," Pace said.
Still, Pace says, the odds of coming off the ventilator and recovering were slim.
"We see a lot of people end up on ventilators long-term, most of those patients never get off," Dr. Pace said.
He credits a coordinated effort by teams at two local hospitals, a little luck and resilience.
Santucci went to the hospital in November. He returned home in June, but is still recovering. He requires oxygen to help him breathe and had to re-learn how to walk.
The family shares this story to help other families avoid it. Now that a vaccine is available, they encourage people to get the shots.
"It's not going to hurt you, it's not going to kill you. You're not going to grow another limb or anything, but it's just going to save your life and peoples' lives around you," Santucci said.