'I'm great. I'm alive.' Greenwich COVID survivor reflects on life and struggles since record hospital stay
George Kelakos, 66, of Greenwich has spent 40 years turning around businesses, bringing them back from disaster, as a lawyer and bankruptcy specialist. Now he's applying lessons learned in his career to his life.
"I'm doing my own turnaround. And in a turnaround, you don't look back and say, 'Woe is me.' You say, 'Ok, lessons that I learned, where am I now, and where do I want to go?'" Kelakos told News 12.
Kelakos was perfectly healthy until a near fatal bout with COVID-19. He holds a record no one wants--the longest stay of any COVID patient at Greenwich Hospital--146 days. Kelokos was admitted in November 2020 with low oxygen levels. He spent two months in a coma with his wife calling to the hospital more than once to say goodbye.
"They were going to apparently take me off the machine, and she fought. She said 'No. My husband's a fighter.' And then I just woke up," Kelakos said.
But the fight was far from over. Kelakos needed to relearn how to do everything. He spent three months at a rehab facility in Stamford, then another few at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, and six months rehabbing in Michigan with family. He didn't return home until April 2021, one full year after leaving Greenwich Hospital.
Today, Kelakos still suffers from multiple long-term effects: issues with smell and taste, sensitivity to hot and cold, and he says his extremities feel alien. He also lost 70 pounds in the hospital and has struggled to put weight back on. But perhaps the biggest effect is with his breathing.
"My lung capacity is 25%. So what does that mean? It means everything you do in life requires oxygen--lifting your hand, talking, walking from here to there, getting dressed," Kelakos explained.
Kelakos spent 53 years in martial arts and was in perfect health before getting sick so this is a change. He hopes to get his lung capacity up and not need an oxygen tank. He'd also like to get back to riding his motorcycle and performing with his band. Kelakos plays lead guitar for the Indubitable Equivalents.
"I might have to sit down and play rather than stand up, which for a rock and roll guy, that's a challenge. But I figure, 'Hey, you know, I'll do what I can.'" he said.
Kelakos said COVID has distilled his life down to its essentials and made him realize what is truly important.
"Really my wife has been my rock," he told News 12.
It's also given him a new appreciation for the small things. Kelakos said he believes in the power of positive thinking and wants to share what he's learned with other people.
"If you find yourself with an illness, a debilitating illness, that hits you from left field, don't despair. You know, you're alive. Cherish that, that gift of life, and keep telling yourself that tomorrow's going to be better. You'll have your ups and downs, but tomorrow will be better," he said.
Kelakos said doctors don't really have any answers for him about what the future looks like because they're still learning about long COVID.