Doctors Serve and Protect Police Officer Recovering from COVID-19
May 17, 2022
As a sergeant for the Little Silver Police Department in Little Silver, New Jersey, Frank Salerno is used to putting himself in dangerous situations. After 28 years of fighting crime, however, what nearly killed him in 2020 wasn’t a car accident, a shooting or an assault. Rather, it was SARS-CoV-2.
“In March 2020, I was reassigned to the Police Academy to teach firearms training to new recruits,” recalls Frank, 55. “There were two other instructors who I shared an office with the week that I was there, and they tested positive for COVID-19. Subsequently, I fell ill. I went to get tested, and I crashed the next day.”
Frank was admitted to the hospital at Riverview Medical Center, where he spent 15 days in the intensive care unit with severe illness. He only remembers four of his 15 days in the hospital: He developed encephalitis, virus-induced inflammation of the brain that often results in memory loss, and at one point, doctors put him into a medically induced coma when he went into respiratory arrest. For four days while he was comatose, he needed a ventilator to breathe.
“I’m told I was the first person with COVID at Riverview to come off a ventilator alive,” Frank says. “I almost died, but the doctors and nurses saved my life.”
Long Road to Recovery
Unfortunately, living was only the first step on a long road to recovery. “When I went into the hospital, I weighed 234 pounds. When I left 15 days later, I was 206 pounds. So it really took its toll on me,” Frank says.
Once extremely active, Frank now struggles to run or even climb stairs. “If I do any type of physical exercise, I can’t breathe. It’s almost like having an asthma attack, where I’m just grasping for breath,” he says.
Peter McGuire, M.D., a pulmonologist who began seeing Frank in October 2020, adds: “Initial testing showed something similar to what we see with a lot of patients following COVID. He has restrictive dysfunction as a result of post-acute COVID-19 syndrome. Basically, his lungs are kind of stiff and not expanding fully. He also has low diffusion, which means his lungs aren’t getting oxygen to his blood as well as they should be.”
Frank can no longer do physical police work—he’s been reassigned to a desk job—and has to partake less often in the active hobbies he’s always loved, including hunting, fishing, mountain biking and hiking.
He may never chase criminals on foot again, or take his beloved Swiss mountain dog, Lincoln, on long, steep hikes in the woods. But Frank can do a lot more now than he could a year ago thanks to Riverview’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program. He engages in medically supervised exercises designed to improve his lung function for an hour a day, three days a week.
“Especially after a severe illness like COVID-19, maintaining a good level of cardiovascular fitness is beneficial,” Dr. McGuire says. “So is maintaining a healthy weight and diet, not smoking and avoiding toxic inhalations. All of that is key to recovery and to lung health in general.”
Although he still experiences shortness of breath, Frank says pulmonary rehab has definitely improved his respiratory stamina. “I was on a nebulizer every single night, but I have not used that since I began pulmonary rehab,” he reports. “The result is amazing.”
Also amazing, he says, is the emergency care he received at Riverview at the pandemic’s outset. “I was born in that hospital, and more than likely I’ll die in that hospital,” Frank says. “The treatment I received there was so above and beyond that sometimes I think I’d like to work there when I retire from law enforcement. It’s just a phenomenal place.”
Next Steps & Resources:
Meet our source: Peter McGuire, M.D.
Learn about the COVID Recovery Center, New Jersey’s first center dedicated to helping COVID patients in their recovery
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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