Video Transcript

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JOHN WHYTE: You're watching "Coronavirus in Context." I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. Over the last few months, I've been interviewing a lot of experts about coronavirus. But it's also important to hear from everyday persons about how they're managing, uh, COVID-19.

And I'm honored today to be joined by Michelle Zymet. Michelle's son went to a friend's house, caught coronavirus, brought it back. Other members of the family got infected, uh, including the father, Michelle's husband, who's-- was on a ventilator and is still in intensive care unit.

Michelle, thanks for joining me.

MICHELLE ZYMET: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

JOHN WHYTE: First of all, tell us how everyone in the family is doing.

MICHELLE ZYMET: Um, well, we're better today, so that's good news. I mean, it's been a long road. It's been three weeks, actually today, that-- uh, since my husband went to the hospital. Uh, again, the kids, you know, we're all positive here at home, so all five of us did test positive for COVID.

Uh, we had very mild symptoms which, obviously, were treatable here on home. I lost taste of sense and smell. I had a cough, a cold, fever, chills maybe one or two days.

The kids, you know, very minor as well. Our six-year-old daughter was asymptomatic, showed no symptoms whatsoever. And then my husband, unfortunately, you know, because he does have underlining conditions, wasn't so lucky. And he just--

JOHN WHYTE: Well, take us back. I kind of gave a quick summary at the beginning, but how did this all start with going to a friend's house?

MICHELLE ZYMET: You know, I mean, like I said, that this was intended to be more of, like, a cautionary tale to express to the public, you know, and the younger generation that, you know, I mean, kids need to take this seriously. This isn't fake news. This isn't a joke.

You know, and I know kids are kids. And I was a kid once as well. And you know, they're cooped up. They want to get out. They want to socialize. And we get it. My stepson is John Place's son. Um, you know, he would always say, oh, I'm just going to go over here for just a minute. I might grab a drink, go to the restaurant.

But you know, apparently, you know, he had a social gathering one night, and he did explain-- he expressed to us that he did take the mask off. Uh, they were socializing for a few hours, having a drink, whatever they were doing. And, um, you know, about a week later, he did get a call from a young lady that was at that gathering and stated, you know, I just wanted to let you know that I have tested positive for COVID. I just wanted to let you know.

He didn't think anything of it. You know, and then he got sick a few days later with a cold-like flu symptom. He didn't tell us, so he sort of just, you know, kept to himself in his room.

And then a few days later, it became my son, who is 14, that started getting sick with coughing, and, you know, wheezing, and just didn't feel good. And then I was just very caught off guard. I said, that's weird. None of us have gone anywhere. He hasn't left the house. No one else is sick. And then [INAUDIBLE]

JOHN WHYTE: Were you thinking COVID at the time, or no?

MICHELLE ZYMET: No. You know, we even took my son to the doctor, and the doctors, you know, they tested us for fever. We walked right in. We were both obviously positive at that time, but did not know. And she said, no, he just has a nasal infection, so she prescribed amoxicillin.

JOHN WHYTE: OK.

MICHELLE ZYMET: Um, and then, again, if-- we did go test that day. And then a few days later, I got sick. And then my husband, right after Father's Day, unfortunately, took a turn for the worse, with a very high fever, and it just persisted for about four days, and then coughing, and shortness of breath, and you know, off to the hospital we went. So it just has been really a nightmare since then.

JOHN WHYTE: Have you been able to visit him? Has the family--

MICHELLE ZYMET: No.

JOHN WHYTE: --seen him in the hospital?

MICHELLE ZYMET: No, just through FaceTime. You know, unfortunately, you know, we're all COVID positive. And him being in a COVID unit, you're not allowed to visit. You can't be next to your loved one.

You can't hold their hand. You can't talk to them. So I've been lucky that I've had some wonderful nurses who have done some FaceTime. And even though he was sedated, you know, we talk to him every night.

JOHN WHYTE: Nurses are--

MICHELLE ZYMET: So--

JOHN WHYTE: --always great, aren't they, in terms of want--

MICHELLE ZYMET: --thankful.

JOHN WHYTE: --and helping the family.

MICHELLE ZYMET: We're so grateful and blessed that they're doing such an amazing job. And it's so difficult. They're inundated, you know, with ICUs are filling up, and the beds, you know, are scarce. It's just-- it's-- it's getting bad, especially here in Florida, so.

JOHN WHYTE: How does your stepson feel, if I may ask?

MICHELLE ZYMET: Yeah. And it--

JOHN WHYTE: With some concerns.

MICHELLE ZYMET: Of course. You know, and again, this wasn't in any way to exploit him, to point fingers at--

JOHN WHYTE: Sure.

MICHELLE ZYMET: --him, and point blame. And you know, I know some of the media has taken it sort of in that direction, and we don't want it to be like that. This is really just to bring awareness. He-- he feels terrible. He's devastated, you know, at just the thought of even, you know, harming any one of us, but especially his dad.

JOHN WHYTE: Because he let his guard down just briefly, correct? It wasn't like, you know, he was out and about, you know, for--

MICHELLE ZYMET: No.

JOHN WHYTE: --for many weeks.

MICHELLE ZYMET: [INAUDIBLE]

JOHN WHYTE: It was a short period.

MICHELLE ZYMET: It wasn't intentional. You know, he never did it to be malicious. I did, you know, heed warnings. Please wear your mask. Wash your hand. Take all necessary precautions, please, every time you go out.

And again, it takes one time to slip up, and that's all it is. You're at the wrong place at the wrong time, you catch it. You come home. You think nothing of it. Um, and now you infect a-- a household of five. This is how--

JOHN WHYTE: Well, how are you all coping, in the sense you-- you can't see a loved one on-- in some ways, and in their hour of most need?

MICHELLE ZYMET: You know, I mean, I've been fortunate enough-- I mean, I have a very huge following, and he does, as well, due to the industry that we are in. And we just have support from all over the world. I mean, people just pouring out love, support, prayers, donations.

I have people bringing me food to my doorstep each and every day. I mean, you know, family that can come as close as they can, you know, they'll leave food here for us and just try to take care of us the best we can. And I'm just trying to keep afloat here with the children.

And just-- I talk to nurses, and doctors, and anybody every single day, any way that I can help my husband, you know, to get the proper care that he needs. So we're very fortunate that he received all the medicine that he did when he did. Because I know there became a shortage of the remdesivir and the convalescent plasma. So he got it all in the nick of time. And you know, I believe that that's helped him considerably to-- to be [INAUDIBLE].

JOHN WHYTE: He's off a ventilator, correct? Is he--

MICHELLE ZYMET: Yeah.

JOHN WHYTE: Is he still in the intensive care unit?

MICHELLE ZYMET: Yeah. So, I mean, he's very weak. He can't really breathe very well on his own, so they did transition him into a BiPAP. And now he is on a nasal cannula or the oxygen mask, you know, in between during the day for more comfort. But he's-- you know, he can't lift his arm.

He can't really talk. It sounds like you're talking to someone who's smoked for 50 years, because, you know, having the tube down his throat for a few weeks, it really did-- but, you know, affect his speaking. So he sort of got to do physical therapy and learn how to swallow and talk, and just-- he's got a long road ahead, but--

JOHN WHYTE: I'm sure they've done contact tracing. And the fact that you didn't know that you were exposed when you were, um, has it turned out mushrooming into other friends and family members that you might have come into contact with? Or had you pretty much been hunkered down at home--

MICHELLE ZYMET: Yeah.

JOHN WHYTE: --you know, throughout this process?

MICHELLE ZYMET: You know, at my job, you know, they did-- I was there for almost a whole week, possibly being positive and had no clue. Luckily, I'm so blessed that they all tested negative. And so we're very grateful.

And that's really the only place I've been to. I haven't socialized and seen a friend or eaten at a restaurant since late February. So we definitely know that we definitely didn't hopefully infect anybody else, thankfully. But again, you know, like I said, not everybody is just as lucky. And these kids just have to understand that they're not invincible.

The virus is real. And then until it affects them, you know, and hits home, they may not get it. And I just don't want it to get to that point, to where another family member is, you know, affected, and their-- have that amount of guilt on them. It shouldn't be that way. It's difficult. It's hard.

JOHN WHYTE: And as you said, it's a cautionary tale, but it's also intensely personal to come out and publicly tell your story. Why are you doing this, Michelle? And why are you doing it now?

MICHELLE ZYMET: You know, I mean, I didn't expect it to get this big. It was really just me on Facebook putting out sort of, like, an emotional plea, I guess, you know, for prayers for my husband at the time when he was first put into the ICU on the ventilator. I was so scared and frightened. I didn't know what to do.

You know, I'm his advocate. I have to be his voice. So I was asking people just for help, and I was telling my story. And then somehow it went somewhat viral to where one news station wanted to do a story. And then it sort of just escalated from there.

And then it became where I was getting a lot of positive feedback from families saying, thank you so much. I've shared this with my son or my daughter. My daughter quit her job because I have cancer, and she doesn't want to bring it home to me and possibly get me sick. You know, just very positive feedback.

And that's where, I think, it's led me in this direction to sort of be that voice, you know, to really let people know, uh, that, again, that this virus is serious, that it is very real, that I hope the younger generation, or anybody who doesn't think that they need to take proper care and hygiene and wear the mask and do all these things to hopefully protect themselves, as well as their loved ones. It's just really for that purpose. You know, I just hope if it reaches one person, and it helps one family, one child, that it makes sense to them, it becomes a little more real, person-to-person, you know, we're talking. This isn't-- this isn't fake. It's not phony, in any way.

JOHN WHYTE: How can people help you and your family? Have you set up a GoFundMe campaign?

MICHELLE ZYMET: Yes, we have. My best friend actually has set up a GoFundMe. It's John Place's GoFundMe. And it's already raised quite a few thousand dollars, so we're very blessed, that-- I mean, if-- you know, any little bit helps.

We don't know-- the bills, obviously, are piling up at this point, but the medical bills are what we're quite afraid of. I mean, we're looking at something close to a million, I'm sure, from what I've heard. So we're just a little worried and one day at a time, one step at a time. But if anybody could donate as little as $1, I mean, any little bit helps, and we're forever grateful.

JOHN WHYTE: Michelle, I want to thank you for sharing your story.

MICHELLE ZYMET: You're very welcome. My pleasure.

JOHN WHYTE: And I want to thank you for watching "Coronavirus in Context." It's important to hear these real-life story from viewers. And again, thank you for your insights.

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