Coronavirus: What one of the youngest patients in a B.C. ICU wants you to know

When most people picture a COVID-19 patient, they don’t imagine Vince Li.

The 26-year-old from Burnaby, B.C, is a personal trainer and a mixed martial artist. He has Type 2 diabetes, but controls it with diet and exercise, and hasn’t taken insulin in years.

He said he never suspected the virus would affect him.

Read more: Here’s what B.C. youth have to say about the province’s coronavirus spike

In March, he became the youngest patient to be put on a ventilator in Royal Columbian Hospital’s intensive care unit in New Westminster.

Li still isn’t sure how he got the virus — but went to the emergency room and was X-rayed in March after starting to feel extremely fatigued developing a fever of nearly 40 C.

“That’s where (the doctor) calmly told me that my lungs were filled with liquid and that I had to be put under ventilators for a few days, which then turned into a couple of weeks,” Li told Global News.

“I didn’t have time to think, I was just more panicking that I saw ventilators, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s happening. This is real.’”

2:08 “It’s not worth it”: COVID-19 survivor warns young partiers to stop ignoring rules

“It’s not worth it”: COVID-19 survivor warns young partiers to stop ignoring rules

Li didn’t have a chance to speak with his mother and brother before he was put into a medically-induced coma. It wasn’t until early April that he woke back up.

“Young people do get quite sick with this, it’s well recognized that young people do get admitted to ICUs and sadly some young people do die of this,” said Dr. Steven Reynolds, an ICU physician and Royal Columbian Hospital’s site director.

Read more: Why one expert says B.C. fumbled its coronavirus message to young people

“It’s certainly not as many … but it’s just a numbers game, so if you infect a whole bunch of people who are young, some of them are going to get really sick, and Vince was one of them.”

While Li did have diabetes, Reynolds called it “well controlled,” and said people should not dismiss the case because of it.

“Vince was a young, healthy guy. This is a guy that you meet him on the street, he was super vigorous. I wouldn’t say that was the reason he got it. Anyone can get it.”

Recovery hasn’t been easy for Li.

After waking back up, he couldn’t talk for days due to damage to his throat and lungs from the ventilator.

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He’s also had to undergo extensive physiotherapy.

“Pretty much I learned how to stand up for the first day or two. You know, being bedridden for a good month, I think they call it ICU-acquired weakness,” he said.

“That itself was a struggle.”

According to Li, walking down the block went from a five-minute exercise to a 50-minute task.

He eventually worked himself up to longer walks, then brief 10-minute runs, but it was about two months before he could return to work, even part time.

2:03 Partygoers still flouting the rules despite rising infections

Partygoers still flouting the rules despite rising infections

He’s still not able to work out in the same way he used to, feels regular fatigue and still gets headaches.

Li has also had to go back onto medication for his diabetes for the first time in years.

He wants other people his age to know that just because the virus is most deadly among the elderly, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have consequences for others.

Read more: British Columbians share what it’s like having COVID-19

“I would say just be aware of where you’re going. It shouldn’t prevent you from going to get groceries,” said Li.

“But at the same time … if there’s a house party, I don’t think that’s a good idea to go to.”

It’s a sentiment Dr. Reynolds shares.

“When you’re growing up and it’s the summer, you really want to get out and party, and that totally makes sense. The issue is putting the risk into context — it’s about not going to those parties of 100 people,” he said.

“The issue is one person inside a closed space can infect tons and tons of people.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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