From CrossFit to 15 Weeks on a Ventilator: How David Harris Battled COVID and Won

David Harris is an avid CrossFitter who experienced the devastation of the Coronavirus pandemic first-hand. He and his wife, Christina, are very active daily. David is a lawyer by day, and Christina is a former English teacher; together, they have four children.

A good friend of David’s encouraged him to try CrossFit about a decade ago. David was initially reluctant because he was already in good shape and wasn’t convinced about paying the amount most CrossFit affiliate gyms charge. But he bought a membership for himself and Christina hoping to try something different. It didn’t take long for both of them to drink the CrossFit ‘kool aid’, and they were hooked, changing their lifestyle for the better. David’s competitive nature influenced him to continue pushing himself in the sport. They started working out in the garage at their house, which inspired David to open his own CrossFit affiliate gym with his good friend Ervin. Contender CrossFit has been open for ten years and is based in Corpus Christi, Texas.

David highlighted the aspects of the CrossFit community he admires. He loves the comradery, fellowship, and passion. But, he added, people hold you accountable and said, “Why else would you put yourself through these workouts?” He also said how it’s the people who are next to you, and in this community, there are a lot of similar shared values expanding beyond fitness.

Before David got sick, he was at the gym five days a week, and when he was away traveling, he would find a box to drop in. He would go to the CrossFit Games every year with his family, and in 2021, he went to Madison. Leading up to the trip, Christina had a little cold but felt fine. David rarely got sick and is very healthy, so he was not worried about himself contracting coronavirus or, if he did, getting seriously sick from it because he was confident he was in the 99% percentile of people with no preexisting conditions. On the flight home, however, he began to feel sick. David took some Advil on the plane, expecting to get over whatever he had quickly, but instead, everything started to go downhill fast. First, he began to have breathing issues, but the doctor assured him he would be fine and should just get tested for Covid. He was still mobile and trying to power through it all. Soon his O2 levels started to drop, but he still was hoping the medication he was taking would do its job.

Eventually, his law partner insisted David go to the hospital because he could tell something was seriously wrong. David was checked into the hospital, thinking he would be out in a day or two, but the doctor noticed his lungs were in bad shape after some testing. David was not getting better, and to make it worse, his family could not visit him in the hospital. Instead, Christina and his dad waited to see David from the hospital window in the hot Texas heat. David remembers the doctors suggesting he try ‘cutting-edge’ treatments, but this was when his memory began to get fuzzy.

David was in a coma for two months. Then, finally, he woke up having lost seventy pounds, was paralyzed, needed double chest tubes, a feeding tube, and was on a ventilator.

He said, “It’s very strange what happened to me. Most people they were treating were elderly or had underlying conditions. I have no answers as to why me, and I may never know the truth as to why it affected me.”

David was on a ventilator for fifteen weeks, but he started therapy every day as soon as possible. He never questioned if he would return but simply wanted to work to return to his life. David was determined to regain his strength and be the husband and dad he was before.

He mentioned how strange things happened in the hospital and how his life would likely look much different if he decided to go about other ways of treatment. A thoracic surgeon discussed putting valves in his lungs as a form of protection, but they waited since he was showing some signs of improvement. The medical options brought to David could have completely changed the outcome of his recovery. He struggled mentally with the pain but knew he had to keep pushing through. With the support of Christina and his dad in the hospital, David made significant progress. There was a moment when David was sitting with his dad, and he said he was going to will his arm to move over his head, and he did! This was the first time David could do this simple movement since getting sick, and it was an emotional moment for them both.

When David was let out of the hospital and started his long journey to recovery, he was already thinking about getting back to the gym.

David acknowledged how the CrossFit community does a great job of recognizing athletes’ differences but appreciating their strengths. He said it was a humbling experience having to start from the beginning because he had to relearn all of the movements. He gave one example of how he couldn’t hold up a PVC pipe when he once could do an impressive overhead squat before he got sick. The key for him has been keeping a positive mindset, working hard, and trusting perseverance will get him where he wants to be. He has been setting small benchmarks for himself, knowing where he came from and believing he will get back to that point. By Christmas, David wants to do a muscle-up again. This is a fantastic feat considering he left the hospital on February 11th of this year. He has a long-term goal to run a 5k and acknowledged how he is starting from step one. However, he will have to pace himself due to lung damage and long-term scarring.

“Trust the process and put in the time.” -David Harris

David’s favorite movement is wall balls, and he plans to be back to what he once was, which was doing the movement unbroken in a workout.

David’s doctors informed him every day you are in the hospital; it takes three days of therapy to recover. His doctors also said he could start getting frustrated around a year and a half after leaving the hospital if there is no improvement. But at six months, David has already made tremendous strides and is planning to return to his old self in another six months. He also plans to do a CrossFit partner competition where he can have fun and laugh the whole way through.

“I don’t think I would be back to where I am now without having the goal and mindset that I can get back to that point.” -David Harris

David described this experience as a dream and very surreal, saying, “In the darkest hours, an endless amount of prayer and faith, both through my family and my extended CrossFit family, got me through. When medicine doubted me, I believe our faith in God defied the odds. People had endless stories about me in the hospital that could only be from something with a higher purpose.” He knows he would not be where he is today without his family and community’s never-failing love and support. Thank you, David, for sharing your story of perseverance and determination. You are living proof that mindset is more powerful than many realize.

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