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Niagara Falls COVID-19 patient released after 67 days in hospital

Tom Dinki/WBFO News
Michael Gawel is applauded by staff as he's discharged from Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center Tuesday morning.

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center is celebrating the discharge of a COVID-19 patient after 67 days, although it continues to battle against the second wave of the pandemic. 



Michael Gawel was sent off Tuesday morning with a round of applause from the hospital staff who cared for him while he was on a ventilator for much of the last two months. The 64-year-old Niagara Falls resident, speaking to the media while on a stretcher in a hospital overhead walkway, said he was grateful for that care. 


“Everybody, from the doctors and nurses, everybody was just fantastic. I think I was gone a couple of times, and they brought me back,” he said. “Then my wife, if it wasn't for her and everybody here, I'd be gone. I'd be dead.”


Niagara Falls Memorial has cared for over 500 COVID-19 patients during the pandemic, 28 of whom have died, according to Joe Ruffolo, the hospital’s president and CEO. He said the deaths can be emotionally draining on staff.


“So it's important for the staff for the providers, the doctors, the nurses, the respiratory therapists, the pharmacists, the housekeeping personnel, it's important for them to participate in a celebration when someone is able to recover, especially after such a long stay,” he said.


The outcomes of COVID patients appear to be improving as more has been learned about the virus. One study found that the mortality rate of hospitalized COVID patients in one New York City hospital system dropped from 25% in March to just 7% in August.


Niagara Falls Memorial is currently caring for 17 COVID patients, including three who are in the intensive care unit. The hospital’s ICU is currently 44% full, according to a New York Times database, while the national average is 79% full.


Niagara Falls Memorial opened a COVID infusion therapy center last month. Ruffolo said it has already infused over 200 people starting to develop severe symptoms of COVID-19, in an effort to prevent them from needing to be hospitalized. 


“So it's a combination of many therapies, inpatient therapies, outpatient therapies, that have basically kept the mortality rate at bay, even though we've seen three times the amount of patients (during the second wave compared to the first wave),” Ruffolo said.


Gawel, who is headed to Erie County Medical Center for rehabilitation, urged others to take the virus seriously.


“Everybody should wear a mask and keep washing their hands and stay six feet away. If not, it'll just get worse,” he said.


Gawel, who works as a certified public accountant, said he hopes to be back to work in time for the start of tax season Feb. 12. 

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.