One of the first COVID-19 cases in California, Gregg Garfield recovered—but needed to have almost all of his fingers amputated.

By Julie Mazziotta
August 03, 2020
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After losing nearly all of his fingers due to complications from COVID-19, a California man is warning Americans to take the virus seriously.

Gregg Garfield, 54, was one of the first COVID-19 cases in California after catching the virus in February during a ski trip with his friends to the Italian Alps. All 13 people in his group tested positive for COVID-19, but Garfield had the worst case, and doctors gave him a 1 percent chance of survival.

“Medically speaking, I should not be here,” he told KTLA. “From MRSA, to sepsis, to kidney failure, to liver failure, pulmonary embolisms, burst lungs — four of them.”

Known as “patient zero” at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Garfield was on a ventilator for nearly half of his 64-day stay at the hospital.

“We would gage the success of his health and the little victories by knowing that the vent settings came down and he was breathing a little bit more by himself,” Garfield’s girlfriend, A.J. Johnson, said.

He was able to leave the hospital — in a moment that went viral — in early May, but he needed to have all of the fingers on his right hand, and most on his left, amputated.

“I’ve survived this. I’m doing fantastic,” Garfield said now, nearly three months later. “However, take heed on this. My hands are never going to be the same. I don’t have fingers anymore.”

“I’m here to tell ya: This could happen to you,” he added to Inside Edition. “And there’s no rhyme or reason behind it.”

Garfield and Johnson want people in the U.S. — and especially their home state of California, which is seeing record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 infections — to be careful and wear masks.

“It should not be political,” Johnson told KTLA. “We need to come together as humans.”

Garfield will soon undergo at least six surgeries to reconstruct his fingers, and will likely get a prosthetic to fit over his right hand. While his $2 million hospital bill was covered by insurance, his prosthetic is not, and his brother is raising money for Garfield's medical expenses on GoFundMe.

And despite the circumstances of his lost fingers, Garfield responded “hell yeah” after Johnson asked if he’ll hit the slopes again. “Assuming coronavirus allows us to,” she added.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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