Michigan Medicine’s first COVID patient reflects on his experience one year later

‘Now, I’m immunocompromised and in the hospital with COVID-19,’ recalls Paul DeWyse

Wayne County resident Paul DeWyse was Michigan Medicine's first confirmed COVID patient. (Michigan Medicine)

ANN ARBOR – Paul DeWyse was known only to the public as “Wayne County man with history of domestic travel” after he became Michigan Medicine’s first confirmed COVID patient last March.

The Livonia man, who had received a double lung transplant in 2018, said he was told in the hospital that there was a 99.9% chance he didn’t have the virus that was rapidly spreading across the world. When his test came back positive for COVID-19, doctors were stumped.

Placed in an isolation room on the sixth floor, 58-year-old DeWyse knew this illness could have a negative outcome.

“Now, I’m immunocompromised and in the hospital with COVID-19, and all I knew about COVID-19 was that it was a virus that could cause illness so serious it results in death,” he told Michigan Medicine in a recent interview.

Alone with just his thoughts, he turned on the TV in his room to discover that news reporters from every area station were broadcasting from outside the hospital about the mysterious patient.

“I could see them from my window,” he told the health system. “It was a feeling that’s difficult to describe. I wasn’t just alone, away from any of my friends and family, but I felt like a social pariah.”

His nurse, Allison Weber, remembers DeWyse asking how his dog, Jazz, was doing and if she could have caught the virus from him. Weber said one day she went to buy DeWyze snacks, magazines and deodorant before one of her shifts to help him feel more normal in an environment where people were constantly peering into his room.

“I wanted to help him feel more human when the world wasn’t treating him like one,” she said in the same interview. “He really was the best patient a nurse could have to be the first patient.”

DeWyse would stay in the hospital for 11 days, receiving three different intravenous antibiotics and pain medication around the clock. His symptoms never required a ventilator.

When he was discharged, he was struck by how the once-empty Regional Infectious Containment Unit was suddenly full with sick patients.

In a video of DeWyse recently released by Michigan Medicine, he says he makes a point to enjoy the outdoors and physical activities as much as possible. Before he received his set of new lungs, his were operation at 15%. Walking and speaking were difficult and he required constant oxygen.

“My mantra is: Live life,” DeWyse said in the video. “I’m just very fortunate to be alive that I can live, I can breathe, I can walk, that I can do things that I haven’t done for like 20 years now. And I just move forward. I don’t look back.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.