80-year-old COVID-19 survivor returns home after four months of heroic persistence

Friday, July 31, 2020
80-year-old COVID-19 survivor returns home after four months of heroic persistence
"He made it. We didn't have to say goodbye." Community Journalist Matteo was there when one of Philadelphia's first COVID-19 patients finally came home.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- For nearly as long as the United States has been wrestling with the COVID-19 pandemic, Avram Woidislawsky has been fighting it himself.

The 80-year-old was the very first patient admitted to the ICU at Pennsylvania Hospital on March 22, 2020. After 81 days on a ventilator and two months in a medically-induced coma, Avram is believed to be a miracle survivor.

"We were called to the hospital four different times to say goodbye but he made it. We didn't have to say goodbye," said his wife, Rita Woidislawsky.

The couple, both veterans of the Israel Defense Forces, fell in love 53 years ago.

Woidislawsky moved to Israel when he was 10-years-old. He was a World War II baby, born in Russia to parents who fled the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. In 1966, he came to America to become a successful businessman, first pumping gas before owning student living spaces in Philadelphia.

The diagnosis was a sudden change of life for the spry senior citizen. About a month before contracting Coronavirus, he was ziplining upside down in Costa Rica. An exercise fiend, he played tennis nearly every night.

Woidislawsky was especially known to be a party animal, celebrating his 80th birthday with flashing lights, sparklers, and heart-pounding music among friends and family in early March.

It's those same friends and family he missed dearly when battling COVID-19.

They came to celebrate his release from Pennsylvania Hospital on May 27, 2020. He was then transported to Good Shepherd Penn Partners Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia. Learning how to talk and walk again was his ticket home.

"When he first came in, he was in pretty rough shape," said Kimberly Tice, a registered nurse with Good Shepherd. "By the end of his stay, he was walking around the gym with a walker, which is pretty amazing from how far he's come."

Among the many signs Woidislawsky held upon celebrating his victory, one was covered with the many names of nurses, doctors, and other frontline workers that made his recovery possible.

Even through the drizzling city rain, Woidislawsky was determined to take those pivotal steps back into his home. Friends and family wheeled him four blocks back to his street, where he spoke volumes with each quiet step.

"It feels like a hero to help other people to survive," Woidislawsky said. Being such an early COVID-19 patient, he served as a teaching model from which doctors and nurses could learn how to handle the incoming pandemic.

Now, Woidislawsky is looking forward to laying in bed, seeing his family, and then getting back up to "Walk, walk, walk!"

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