'This is not fake news, this is not the flu': Highlands Ranch man shares his experience with COVID-19

Posted at 12:59 PM, Nov 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-15 14:59:02-05

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. -- Suzanne and Mark Nepi were doing all the right things trying to keep the novel coronavirus out of their house. They didn’t really go anywhere and spent their time hibernating, just going to the grocery store once in a while. Yet somehow, the new virus found them.

They don’t know how or where or why, but they both got it. Contact tracing turned up nothing.

“I’m on autopilot because I don’t have any other options” said Suzanne Nepi, standing outside Littleton Adventist Hospital where her husband has been inside since October 9. “I’m trying to stay strong for our two children and Mark.”

Suzanne ended up with a light viral dose but Mark wasn’t so lucky. At first, they thought they had the flu, but Mark’s symptoms just kept getting worse so they came to Littleton Hospital.

“He said, 'You know, if we go in there that might be the last time I see you because you can’t come in…' and I said, 'We have to take that risk because I don’t want you to die at home.'”

This is a man who lived a healthy life and hadn’t been in the hospital since he had a tonsillectomy as a little boy. As an adult, he had run marathons, endured triathlons and biathlons and climbed mountains dozens of times. And for nearly five weeks Mark was in the hospital fighting to survive — for nearly three of those, he was on a ventilator — and he was alone.

“It made me insane. He was in the hospital by himself and because I had tested positive I had to stay in my house. That was an anguish I can’t describe. It’s against instinct," Suzanne said, adding he had some close calls.

“These doctors in the ICU are calling him a miracle because he went through a lot and he went through some scary moments. He is my hero and they are my hero. After some real harrowing moments they saved his life here. They are really good, good people," she said.

Suzanne finally tested negative for COVID-19 and was allowed to go inside the hospital.

"He saw me and I saw him and we both started sobbing, and I said, 'I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.'"

And she was there as Mark was released from the ICU and treated to a hallway parade of nurses, doctors and medical staff holding signs of support. He was wearing his Broncos cap and giving the thumbs up sign to the cheers and whistles of people the Nepis call soldiers, saints and heroes.

And for now Mark is in rehab facility for the next few weeks as he works to regain his strength. He’s 25 pounds lighter and two weeks ago, he was unable to move or speak. But he did have words from his hospital bed for you about his COVID-19 experience.

“This is not a hoax, this is not fake news, this is not the flu, this is something to be taken very, very seriously and it is life threatening," he said, adding that “being on ventilator is the closest thing to an American horror story. You do not want to be on a vent.”

For her part, Suzanne says, “I’m not about to let him out of my sight anymore.”