As most COVID-19 restrictions ease and many look to move on from the virus that has altered society as we know it, a man from Innisfil is still suffering from symptoms from long-term effects nearly two years after testing positive.
Now he’s working towards giving back to the hospital he credits for saving his life.
“I had amazing nurses, amazing doctors right by my side telling me you are going to make it, we are here for you,” Lawson tells CTV News. “We are going to do everything we can, and they did. They absolutely did.”
Stephe Lawson was first alerted that he was a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case at the end of May 2020. After initially feeling fine, he came down with symptoms nearly one week later, and his life has forever been changed.
It took three tests before a positive reading was eventually found.
“It was believed I had COVID; I exhibited all the symptoms of COVID that were known at that time,” Lawson says. “I was admitted, required my lungs to be drained, flipped over on my stomach. I was hooked up to tubes, and a test was administered again, and it was determined then it was positive.”
After spending weeks in intensive care, Lawson started to isolate himself at his trailer that summer. While he eventually was cleared of the virus with consistent negative readings, many of his symptoms never left.
“What I’ve really noticed since coming out of COVID is how much my body’s changed,” says Lawson. “I’m weak, tired. I’ll have these episodes where I’ll be doing something, and all of a sudden, I get this feeling like I’m going to pass out, and I literally do; 30 seconds or so later, I have to lie down immediately.”
It’s been a challenging adjustment for the father of four, with two of those children under 10. Lawson, who once thrived in a highly demanding physical job at the local Honda plant, now travels with a portable oxygen machine.
While spending much of the last two years recovering his physical health, Lawson has also sought support for his mental well-being, adapting to his changing conditions.
“You think after being around a half-century or so that you learn all of life’s lessons, that you have all the answers and then something like this happens and it humbles you, and it gets you to rethink things, and you take another look around, and you see what’s really important in your life: your friends, your family, the people, the community, that’s the true blessing that’s right there,” Lawson says.
Lawson continues to seek regular treatment for his condition at Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) in Barrie, the same hospital where he sought support upon his initial diagnosis.
On Saturday, he led a fundraising walk for the hospital and the staff that he credits for saving his life.
“What I had could have killed them, and not one person hesitated for one second to be right there by my side and do all they can, not only for me but for many others who were brought in like myself,” says Lawson. “We’re here because of all of them and owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Lawson had set a fundraising goal of $1000 but surpassed that ahead of Saturday’s walk. For the staff at RVH, his appreciation of him for their work goes a long way.
“It’s incredible,” says Sharon Ramagnano, RVH’s interim director for emergency staffing and COVID clinics. “He is a resilient, amazing person. I can’t believe he’s found the time to do this to thank us. We should be thanking him for giving us hope.”
Ramagnano says not much is known about the so-called COVID-19′ long-haulers’ like Lawson, but that much research is being done.
While unable to obtain a vaccine due to his consistent medical struggles, Lawson says he wishes he was able to be afforded that extra protection.
However, as divisions mount amidst loosening restrictions, Lawson says he hopes people respect everyone’s individual choice, whatever it may be.
“Be mindful, be kind to one another,” he says. “There’s going to be some of us that will continue to wear our masks, and there will be reasons for that. There will be some that will choose not to.”
If you would like to contribute to his fundraiser and to find more details about his story, click here.