When Nick Barakos left the intensive care unit at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital last spring – after setting the record as the COVID-19 patient who spent the longest on a ventilator there – he was just starting to come to terms with the fact he had spent five weeks fighting for his life, a time a machine breathed for him when he could not, a time when he came very close to death.
The owner of a popular seafood place and an adjoining steakhouse in northern Lancaster County, Nick was too weak to raise a fork to his own lips for a time. A robust man with his own gym in his basement, the 57-year-old man was a ghost of his former muscular self, having lost 60 pounds.
But today Nick is regaining his health. He’s back to work, happy, and grateful. So grateful, he donated $10,000 to WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, with the caveat that it be used for the ICU staff he credits with saving his life. His donation will be used to refurbish the unit’s staff lounge.
“My chances for survival were not good at all,” Nick says. “But the nurses and doctors were there for me. I told them, ‘You are an inspiration to me.’ And they said, ‘No Nick, you are an inspiration for us.’ “
ICU clinical coordinator Allison Sigman says, “He was our miracle.”
‘Sister, I don’t want to die’
Barakos, the owner of Kyma Seafood Grill and Johnny’s Bar & Steakhouse, became ill with COVID-19 in February 2021. A healthy man with no underlying conditions, he felt like he was gasping for air by the time he got to WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital. He knew his condition was grave but did not want to be placed on a ventilator.
“The nurses got my sister on the phone,” he recalls. “She said, ‘Brother, they are trying to help you.’ I said, ‘Sister, I don’t want to die.’ She was crying. I was crying. After that, I don’t remember too much.”
Barakos spent five weeks on a ventilator – 36 days in all. His kidneys and liver started to shut down.
Gerri Harris was one of Nick’s regular nurses. She remembers the dark days of 2021 for Nick and other patients in the ICU.
“Nobody was making it,” she said. “We talked to his family regularly on Zoom and they would not give up, even though we felt like there were times that this wasn’t going to work out. No matter what we did, patients seemed to die. There seemed like there was no rhyme or reason to this disease. Then Nick got better. Finally! We got a winner. We needed that. It felt so good to have someone who walked out of here.”
Grateful for his care and for life
Surviving COVID-19 has brought unexpected gifts to Nick, one of the reasons he wants to give to others. He tells a story that illustrates what he’s gained from the dark, frightening experience.
“After I was able to start driving again, I went to Sam’s Club with my dad, to get some things for the restaurants. It was a rainy day and I drove us there. My dad said, ‘What a crappy day.’
“I had to pull the car over. I looked over at him and started crying, and he started crying too. We realized that every day is a great day. We get so stuck in work and routines that we forget to be appreciative of the things we take for granted. I’m not glad I almost died but I think it changed me and made me a better person. I appreciate life more.”
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