If you ask Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena (and we did), a virus like COVID-19 should be scared of someone like Ahmad Ayyad. A 40-year-old longtime athlete who’s completed six Spartan races and several half-marathons, this man is not to be messed with. At 6’1 and 215 pounds, he’s a boxing, football-playing, weightlifting beast. And yet, the coronavirus did not care — it took away all of his strength, and practically his life, along with it.
On March 11, the Washington, D.C. resident and owner of several local businesses began experiencing flu-like symptoms. By March 14, he was struggling to breathe and was too weak to drive himself to the hospital, so he took an Uber to a local hospital. There, he tested positive for COVID-19 and influenza A. When his breathing got worse, he was put on a ventilator and transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was their third patient with the novel coronavirus.
Ahmad talked to Joe about his descent into COVID-19 hell and the 25 days he spent in a medically-induced coma near death, and shared how he believes his health regimen helped him make a miraculous recovery.
Joe De Sena Talks With COVID-19 Survivor and Spartan Ahmad Ayyad
Joe De Sena, Spartan Founder and CEO: You are strong as an ox. I can’t even believe you caught the virus, you caught the bug. Where’d you catch it?
Ahmad Ayyad, COVID Survivor: I honestly don’t know — none of my friends or anyone else around got it. I can’t remember where I got it from. I did go to Florida the week prior, so the doctors think it was that. I went there for three days to see my brother three days prior. But you just don’t know.
JD: Do you think the virus was scared when it met you? You’re a pretty tough guy.
AA: I didn’t think I had the symptoms they talk about. I was really weak for a few days, the Urgent Care was closed, and I took an Uber to the hospital. Everything was fine, I could breathe. Then, when I got to the emergency room, everything went to hell. “We gotta put you in an induced coma, you’re not getting enough oxygen,” they said. I’m like, “Whoa, an induced coma? Now?” I just wanted some medication. “Are you sure you got the right guy?,” I asked. They told me I have the flu, I have COVID, and we need to take care of you. They induced me into a coma right there and then.
JD: Do you think that’s what you needed?
AA: I don’t know. They transferred me overnight to John Hopkins, one of the better hospitals in the world. I woke up the next day, FaceTime’d my parents to tell them I’m at Johns Hopkins, and they said they’re on their way. (I told them I can’t have visitors.) And I was in a coma for 25 days after that.
JD: When they induced you into a coma, was that the planned outcome, 25 days?
AA: No, at that point, they put me on a ventilator. It was just me fighting for my life.
JD: Wow. So were there complications, or was that all the virus?
AA: It was a mixture of a lot of things — the fact that I had influenza, the flu, before I went to the hospital. Then I got coronavirus, and then while I’m in the hospital, I kept getting bacterial infections, kept getting pneumonia. That kept infecting the tube I had in my throat, and it kept setting me back because they had to give me medication. It kept slowing down the healing process.
JD: What ended up finally kicking this thing? Just time?
AA: I woke up from my coma, ripped the tube out, called my dad, and told him to come get me. My dad was so happy I woke up. The nurses rushed in and said, “What are you doing?” I was trying to get myself up; my body was pretty much paralyzed, because at that point I hadn’t moved in 21 days. They put the oxygen back in me and then put me back into the coma. I had surgery scheduled that Friday to put the tube in my neck, so I could stop getting infections. And in those four days I was able to make the miraculous recovery, to get better, and they canceled the surgery an hour before.
JD: So you had a series of bad things: the combination of the flu, coronavirus, and infections.
AA: Yes, because you’ve got that tube sticking out. People don’t realize it, but there’s a lot of stuff in the hospital that can get you worse.
JD: Obviously, the frontline workers, the doctors, and the nurses — they’re the frontline of this military operation, right? We can’t live without them.
AA: They’re the true heroes right now. When you have COVID, you don’t have anyone in that room but them. You look forward to them walking in the room and unfortunately, they’re dressed like astronauts. You feel bad for them because they have to wear that gear every time they come into the room. But they’re everything to you at that point because you have no visitors, you can’t talk to anyone. So they’re the real heroes right now.
JD: What would you tell the audience? Do you think it helped that you took care of yourself?
AA: The doctor said that I was healthy, and my body helped me to recover from it. Right now, I’ve already gained 45 pounds, I’m already in the gym, I’m running 6 miles — I’m already hitting it hard. I’ve been out of the hospital for four weeks now.
JD: You’re putting on 10 pounds a week?!
AA: I was eating everything. I’ve already started lifting weights and am boxing. You’ve gotta push through it. As Spartans, we don’t really hold back much.
JD: I would think the virus, if they have a choice to pick, they would stay away from Spartans.
AA: You would think so, but it was a 25-day fight. We got through it.
JD: You’re awesome. Anything I missed that we should cover?
AA: Just that people need to be precautious, and for those who don’t believe the virus is real, it’s real. It can happen to anybody. It happened to me, and I was one of the people who thought, “This isn’t real. What are the chances of me getting it?” It got me, and it almost took my life. People just need to be careful, be cautious, and respect each other, because you might have it and be spreading it to other people. You just need to be safe and precautious.
JD: I caught some hell on social media because my feeling towards it is: We can’t win this fight. It’s invisible, it’s not going away. The best thing we can do is take care of ourselves, be healthy.
AA: Absolutely. Be healthy, be careful, and just respect others. The mask is not for you, it’s for others. As long as you keep your ground and respect other people’s space, everyone should be fine.
Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity, where appropriate.