Coronavirus: Bangladeshi worker who came close to death a few times defies the odds, discharged after five months

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Mr Raju Sarker's dramatic recovery after a long stay in the ICU surprised doctors. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - He lost 24kg and came close to death a few times but Singapore's Covid-19 case 42 was determined to pull through.

He had to, for the sake of his wife in Bangladesh who was pregnant with their first child when he fell ill in February.

On Friday (June 26), Mr Raju Sarker walked out of Tan Tock Seng Hospital; a father given a new lease of life. His son was born on March 30.

The 39-year-old Bangladeshi national had spent almost five months in hospital, half of which in the intensive care unit.

In good spirits when discharged, he gave the thumbs-up sign and told The Straits Times that the first thing he wanted to do was to have some mutton curry.

One of the first few foreign workers to have contracted the coronavirus, he was admitted to hospital in early February.

In mid-May, he was transferred to TTSH's rehabilitation centre.

His dramatic recovery after such a long stay in the ICU surprised doctors, said Dr Benjamin Ho, a senior consultant at the respiratory and critical care medicine department in TTSH.

Dr Ho said that Mr Sarker was a very sick patient when he was first admitted and was close to death two or three times.

"His blood pressure dropped to very low and he had very poor oxygenation. We thought he would need long-term oxygen support and were very worried that he would be one of the early deaths in Singapore," said Dr Ho, who is also the director of ICU at National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).

Despite being critically ill, Mr Sarker was determined to recover.

At the rehab centre, he did physiotherapy to build strength and cardiovascular fitness, and also saw an occupational therapist with a focus on self-care, such as showering and grooming.

He managed to put on 10kg in his five weeks at the rehab centre.

Initially, he needed assistance to move around, senior physiotherapist Simon Lau said on Friday.

"He was quite deconditioned and weak due to his prolonged stay in the ICU. But he was very motivated, keen to do his exercise, recover by himself and even did his own exercises while resting in the ward."

Mr Sarker exercised daily for around two hours and took longer walks around the centre to improve his endurance when doctors gave him the go-ahead to do his own exercises independently.

The construction worker was also a curious patient, said senior staff nurse Charmaine Loh on Friday.

"He asked many questions such as 'why is it like that' and 'will I get better'. We tried to teach him how to take care of himself, especially after he is discharged and no longer under direct supervision," Ms Loh, 34, said.

Mr Raju Sarker managed to put on 10kg in his five weeks at the rehab centre. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The biggest motivation for him to get better was his family.

He first saw his son over video chat in mid-April, a week after his condition improved and he had been transferred out of the ICU to a general ward in TTSH.

"I cannot call when my son is sleeping," he told The Straits Times in a smattering of English, adding that the baby would stop crying when he sees his face.

The nurses said he was always looking through the photos of his family in his phone and calls home frequently.

"I want to see my son and wife... I (hope to) go home in three or four months' (time)", he said.

For now, it is still a long road to recovery for him, his doctors said.

The coronavirus had affected him in many ways. It had caused him to have low salt and magnesium levels and poor heart function.

It also infected his lungs, and caused thyroid and kidney issues. He had to undergo dialysis to support his kidneys temporarily.

A brain scan also showed changes in his brain, something not uncommon for patients who spent extended periods in the ICU.

He is now on hospitalisation leave for two months and has to return to the hospital for follow-up visits.

When he is fit enough to start work, arrangements will be made with his employer.

Senior nurse manager Magdalene Lim, who was one of the nurses who took care of him, said of his recovery as she bid goodbye when he left the hospital: "It is a beautiful success story. He was a very diligent patient."

Mr Sarker said: "Thank you, to everybody."

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