Video Transcript

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JOHN WHYTE: You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, the chief medical officer at WebMD. Coronavirus certainly has had an impact on many families. My guest today is Joseph Fusco. Five members of his family have died from COVID-19. Even more have been impacted. Mr. Fusco is here today to-- to help explain what's happened, as well as how we might be able to-- to stem this pandemic. Joe, thanks for joining me.

JOE FUSCO: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

JOHN WHYTE: Take us back to when this first happened several months ago. How-- how did it all unfold?

JOE FUSCO: Well, my one brother, Vinny, who we suspect kind of brought it around, had-- he had been sick for like a month. He's-- you know, he said I got a cold, I got this. And then, uh, it moved to, like, March 4th, we were at my parents house, and he wasn't there, actually. He wasn't there. My-- my older brother, Carmine, who had-- who is deceased now, he said-- we were just sitting there, and he said, I feel a chill. Is anyone else chilled? [INAUDIBLE] no one's [? chilled. ?]

So we sat down. He came back, when he came back to my house, he went right to bed. I woke up that next morning, and I was beat up. I felt like I ran over by a bus. I couldn't move. And I'm never like that. [INAUDIBLE] I can't remember last time I was ever like that.

JOHN WHYTE: Mhm.

JOE FUSCO: I texted all my family members, I said, hey, anyone feel like this? [? And ?] [? everyone-- ?] and he said, no, I feel good. I said, Carmine, you said you got the chills. He goes, yeah.

JOHN WHYTE: Were you even thinking COVID? Did that even come into your mind?

JOE FUSCO: Well, it did because the next day I went to the doc. Called the doctor to see if I could get in, and the next day I went to the doctor, my doctor, and said, you know, I-- I just felt so bad. She was like, listen, I'll check you out, I'll listen to your lungs. You're fine. Whatever you had, it was probably going through you. I said, yeah, but with this COVID going around, is there any possibility? She's like, I'll check you out. You're-- you're fine.

JOHN WHYTE: Mhm.

JOE FUSCO: The next day was, uh-- the following day was a Friday. I didn't feel totally better, but I was better. I-- I-- you know, I wasn't beat up like I was on the Wednesday. And then Saturday and Sunday, I wasn't feeling good. I knew something was up. I was feeling it. And Sunday, we went to my mom's house to my niece's birthday, her 30th birthday, and I stayed away from everybody. Monday, I went back to the doctor, and she said, nah, you-- you're all right. She gave me a z-pack or something, something for--

JOHN WHYTE: OK.

JOE FUSCO: --my ear. And, uh, it just didn't feel right. The next day was Tuesday. And then, you know, I got reports from my mom and my sister. You know, they really weren't feeling well. And I went over there, and I-- and I looked at them and I said, you guys gotta go to the hospital. We've gotta take you. And my mom didn't want to go to the hospital. She-- you know, ever since my dad passed three years ago, she's skittish.

She didn't want to go. So we got her to go. I brought her and my older sister, who passed, and I brought them to the hospital. Me and my other two sisters, Toni and Maria, we went to the clinic. The clinic took x-rays of my sister Maria and they said, no, you got something in your lungs, you gotta go. Me and my sister Toni, they checked us out, they said, nah, you're fine. They listened to us, they're fine.

Wednesday came along. Me and my sister Toni weren't-- still weren't feeling well. We went back to that clinic. And she said, no, you're-- [INAUDIBLE] you're-- you're fine. You-- you look good [INAUDIBLE].

JOHN WHYTE: Are you getting frustrated by this? You keep going to the doctor, and they keep saying you're fine.

JOE FUSCO: Yeah. And so the next day, we-- we went there, and the lady said you're fine. And she said, but I told you, if you didn't feel good, go to the hospital. OK, good idea. So we went to the hospital. The hospital checked me out. They said, oh, your lungs are good, [INAUDIBLE] you sound good. We're gonna take an x-ray. They took an x-ray of me and said, you know what, we're gonna admit you. We don't like the way your x-rays look compared to your other x-rays, because I had melanoma, so I have a history of x-rays--

JOHN WHYTE: Mhm.

JOE FUSCO: --for-- for a while. And, uh, basically then all hell broke loose. The next thing I know, the following morning-- the Friday morning, I got word that my older sister had passed, the one that went to the hospital with my mom. And I-- that-- you know, I got that word. And-- and at that point, you know, I was very upset and very lost, but it was shortly thereafter where I told the doctors, I can't do this no more. I can't breathe. It's-- it's-- it's too tough. And they said, good, we'll put-- we're gonna put you on a ventilator. It's the smartest move. And--

JOHN WHYTE: And you were on a ventilator for 30 days, is that right?

JOE FUSCO: 30 days I was on a ventilator. I woke up on Easter Sunday. They took me off.

JOHN WHYTE: And then during that time, other family members passed away?

JOE FUSCO: Well, shortly thereafter, my-- my-- my older brother, Carmine, the one that had gotten the chill on that-- that night at my mom's house, he passed. The dates I'm still sketchy about, but it was within, you know, the following probably Wednesday or whatever. And then a day later, my mom passed, and two days later, or maybe the next day, my-- my brother Vinny passed.

JOHN WHYTE: Wow. I'm sorry to hear that. How is everyone doing? How are you doing? How's the rest of your family?

JOE FUSCO: You know, me, emotionally, I was always prepared for my parents to die. My dad passed three years ago. My mom-- my mom wanted to be with my dad. So it was no shock that she went. And she wanted to be with him. I wasn't shocked. Waking up-- hearing my sister passed, and then waking up and my brothers were gone, it's rough. I still-- I miss them. I-- I can't make sense of it, but it's life. And preparing myself for my parents to die my whole life, it-- it-- it's helping me along that-- that I was able to do that.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, the media kind of used your story early on to kind of give this cautionary tale about gatherings. But there's also been some developments in terms of looking at the genetics, is that right? And in terms of trying to look at some genetic analysis and-- and DNA that they're now taking from toothbrushes and hairbrushes. Is that right?

JOE FUSCO: Yes. The Johns Hopkins is doing a genetic study. I mean, it's not an overnight study. I mean, from what we're told, this is a couple years study. We'll get bits and pieces as they go along, but the large part of it, any breakthrough is not gonna be around the corner. But yes, they are doing a genetic study, because they feel it's more than-- this is just crazy what happened, that four members, and my mom's sister, would pass like-- like the way they did.

JOHN WHYTE: So there's something going on here, as well as-- other than just transmissibility. Um, Mr. Fusco, you wanted to-- to comment and tell your story, and you've talked about that you get mad when you see people aren't wearing masks and, you know, social distancing. Talk to us about what we all can learn from-- from your story that, you know, we all feel very sorry for what, you know, you've had to experience.

JOE FUSCO: I-- I'm very angry at-- at whoever it is. I mean, the president, Pence. And I'm a Republican, so don't take that the wrong way. Um, everyone who's using this as a political ploy. People out there, young kids who they haven't been thrown into this tragedy.

JOHN WHYTE: Mhm.

JOE FUSCO: I mean, all-- all they're seeing is, no, I'm not sick, I'm-- I'm-- I'm not sick, why should I wear a mask? Because you're-- you're spreading this. You're helping it spread. And the worst part is you're bringing it to people that are susceptible to happen to what happened to my family. You know? The-- the older people, the younger kids, which god bless that we haven't seen younger kids dying. God-- I mean, the one thing we have to thank god for is that.

JOHN WHYTE: Mhm.

JOE FUSCO: They-- they never had a chance to live. And-- and these people are out there, and they don't care about that. That's just ridiculous. Our future they don't care about. It's-- it's sickening.

JOHN WHYTE: What's the message you have to them?

JOE FUSCO: Just wear a mask. Follow protocol. There's not a giant government conspiracy to get you to wear a mask. No one got options on masks and they're cashing in right now. Wear a mask. It's gonna stop the spread. At least, it's gonna help the spread a hell of a lot. You know, we-- we need help as a society. This is a pandemic. This is affecting every one of us. When this all started, they said it's gonna affect everyone on this earth, and it's going to. I don't believe that it won't. I believe it will eventually hit everybody.

JOHN WHYTE: You donated your plasma to help out. Why'd you decide to do that after this tragedy you've experienced?

JOE FUSCO: Well, I would have done it anyway, but the day I woke up, I was given plasma. The doctors don't know if it helped me. They don't know if it harmed me. But one thing's for sure-- I'm here. I woke up after 30 days. I'm here. I'm-- I'm getting healthier every day. And I don't ever want this to happen to somebody else's family. If I can help someone else survive, and their family be good and their family be whole, then that's what I want to do.

I mean, it's just tragic what we went through. We were-- we were 11 kids, and we were always together. And my parents, we were always there. And till three years ago when my dad passed, we never-- nothing-- you know, people died, but us 13, our core, we were there. And-- and we had so many auxiliary family members that would be there. And we-- we were always there. And this now, five of us gone, is unbelievable. It's unbelievable.

JOHN WHYTE: Mhm. Well, Mr. Fusco, you know, I'm sorry to hear about your tragedy, but I also want to thank you for-- for sharing your story, for providing your insights, for helping others with the donation, you know, of your plasma, and-- and the messaging that you're giving to viewers.

JOE FUSCO: Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time and having my voice heard.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.