DETROIT (WXYZ) — If there are miracles when it comes to surviving COVID-19, Michael Rybski is one of them.
"I chose to go on the ventilator. I knew if I didn't, I was dying," Rybski said. "I was suffocating. I couldn't breathe."
The 41-year-old man of Taylor contracted COVID-19 about three months ago, bounced around to several hospitals and begged to be placed on a ventilator a day before he was transferred to Harper Hospital in Detroit.
"Today is, I think, day 88," he told 7 Action News. "It was a long process, but to be honest with you, I feel better now than I did before I got sick."
During his grueling journey, Rybski lost 70 pounds, but it was the havoc COVID-19 caused his lungs that had doctors at the Detroit Medical Center decide he was a candidate for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO.
"Mr. Rybski is a lucky guy," said DMC cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Kenton Zehr. "We only put patients on ECMO that are going to die otherwise."
If you consider that ventilators were considered scarce at the peak of the pandemic, it's important to know that they're pretty much a dime a dozen compared to ECMO machines.
The potentially lifesaving piece of equipment is expensive even for a hospital, and it requires a team of trained health care workers to operate it while caring the patient. The DMC has five ECMO machines.
Unfortunately, research shows not everyone can be considered a candidate for ECMO, and there's still less than a 50% chance of survival.
"He (Rybski) spent 41 days on ECMO — that's over a month," Zehr said. "We had all kinds of complications with him. He required a tracheostomy, both of his lungs collapsed because they were so stiff, and the linings of the lungs didn't have integrity — both of them collapsed. He required surgical procedures on his lungs to get them to expand."
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Zehr and physicians all over southeast Michigan and the country continue to advise people that the best way to avoid hospitalization and even death from the virus is vaccination.
"The vast majority of cases that we see, especially the sicker ones, are all unvaccinated," said Dr. Justin Skrzynski of Beaumont Hospital. "We do see our share of breakthrough cases but again, that's a minority.
"If you have not been vaccinated, then you should really think twice about whether or not you want to be around, especially elderly family members, ones with chronic medical conditions, those are still the people most at risk," Skrzynski said.
While Rybski's wife Jeana, a school teacher, had been vaccinated earlier this year, she did contract COVID-19 around the same time that he and their 7-year-old daughter Mia began showing symptoms.
Jeana and Mia had mild cases.
"I never took it serious," Michael Rybski said. "I was lazy to go get vaccinated. You know, it's not a political thing anymore. It's real."
Michael Rybski said he's now planning to get vaccinated as soon as he can.
Recently, Michael Rybskin was moved from Harper Hospital to the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM) in Detroit where he was expected to remain for several weeks, but he's been making incredible strides in his recovery and is expected to be released on Thursday. And that will be the first time he's able to hug his little girl for the first time in about three months.
Jeana Rybski said she's thankful for the support she's received from family and friends as well as the DMC staff.
"I have to say that the nine ICU team at Harper has been amazing," she said referring to the same unit on the ninth floor of Harper Hospital, where all of the postoperative open heart patients are also recovering.
Jeana Rybski said she's also a stronger person for having gone through the ordeal with her husband while still teaching and caring for their daughter.
"It pushed my loyalty to God even more just because I know Michael is a miracle. And I know He had the biggest hand in this," Jeana Rybski said.