PASCAGOULA / RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - For eight months, Pascagoula resident Gary Herritz did his best to avoid going anywhere except doctor’s appointments; an unfortunate necessity for him since his liver transplant in 2012.
A visit last month for a procedure ended up exposing him to coronavirus, his biggest fear since the pandemic began because of his weakened immune system.
“Even with the limited studies that are out there on transplant patients, especially kidney and liver transplants, they’ve had rates of mortality that are higher than long-term care facilities, which is just astonishing,” Herritz said. “The first phone call I made was to my power of attorney and I let them know that they may be getting a phone call if I had a rapid decline.”
Now, nearly a month later, Herritz still deals with cognitive and respiratory issues, making it hard to answer whether he feels better or not.
“My short term memory is just gone. When I’m even texting with my daughter, I have to scroll up and continue to read what I already told her so that I know what we’re even talking about. And even still today, with this interview, I’ve got a notebook sitting right here.”
It’s something doctors call COVID brain fog, cognitive decline associated with the virus - far more severe than just forgetting a word or two.
“With cooking, if you walk away from the stove, you may forget that you’re making something at all. And when you add in not being able to smell, then you wouldn’t know if something is burning,” Herritz said. “Driving, it’s the same thing. I know, people are kind of familiar with highway hypnosis. And it’s basically the same idea where you start driving, and then, all of a sudden, you’re there. And you don’t remember what happened between when you left and when you arrived.”
Herritz said he even put his medications in the middle of the floor so he’d see them and remember to take them. Those lingering effects are something Reservoir Police Lt. Carlos Dipuma has dealt with also.
The impact to his breathing and his memory still persist two months later.
His doctor said it would likely continue as long as three months after his diagnosis.
“I can’t even get on the treadmill for, like, five minutes. I’m done. I’m short winded. You know, just feel like I can’t breathe,” Dipuma said.
Dipuma was diagnosed in December, eventually spending five days in the hospital because he couldn’t breathe.
“If my wife hadn’t been home, I would have made it. I could breathe out but I couldn’t get nothing back in,” Dipuma said.
Herritz believes the monoclonal antibody treatment, which he was able to get because he’s considered high risk, kept him out of the hospital and saved his life.
The treatment, which Herritz said would likely cover a good portion of the state due to underlying health conditions, has shown to reduce hospitalizations by 60 to 80 percent.
Now both are using their experiences to hopefully persuade others to wear masks, distance themselves and get the vaccine.
“It can happen to you. COVID is gonna find you, it found me. And I don’t know too many people who have been more careful than I have,” Herritz said.
Dipuma agrees, citing his brush with death as a motivating factor.
“I’m almost back at 100 percent. But when you actually can say to yourself that I’m not going to make it, you’ll think differently,” Dipuma said.