CALGARY -- When Jay Chowdhury woke up in a hospital bed at the Peter Lougheed Centre on April 3, he was sure he’d only been there for 24 hours. To his complete shock, the nurse taking care of him said more than two weeks had passed.

"She said you have been sleeping here for 16 days today," recalled the 51-year-old. "It is the 16th day you have been on ventilation.

"You have been actually struggling between life and death."

All Chowdhury remembers is falling ill and his wife Jyoti dropping him off at the hospital after his family physician confirmed he had tested positive for COVID-19. She was not permitted to go inside with him due to restrictions implemented by the province to prevent the spread of the virus.

Exhausted at the time, Chowdhury vaguely recounts receiving an emergency room bed, closing his eyes and falling asleep.

Chowdhury's time in hospital was remarkably different for his wife.

Jyoti says the 16 days were the longest, and some of the most agonizing, days she's ever experienced. She recalls her husband’s appetite diminishing days prior to his hospitalization and that he had a stubborn cough that wouldn’t go away.

Once she brought him to hospital she would not be able to see him while he was in ICU. Jyoti says she learned he was on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma and she could only receive updates of her husband’s progress by phone. She says while her Christian faith gave her strength, she worried about the future of her family.

"I thought 'What is my next step? What am I going to do with my three boys?'," said Jyoti. "And I have no idea because he was the only rock in our house. Like a standing rock."

Jyoti says for the most part she received positive news of his condition but remembers the 14th day when it didn’t look like her husband would pull through. She says the doctors were considering transferring him to the Foothills Medical Centre for a hemodialysis.

Prognosis takes positive turn

The prognosis didn’t look promising but things suddenly took a positive turn.

"The doctor called me the next day and said 'Jyoti, it’s good news. We don’t have to take him to the Foothills. He’s changing and he’s getting better' and from that day it was a new life for me.”

During Chowdhury’s time in hospital, Jyoti took care of her three boys — aged 11, 12 and 18 — while recovering from COVID-19 herself as the entire family contracted the novel coronavirus. Although her sons were asymptomatic, she had a fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The family says Chowdhury likely caught the virus at a Friday prayer meeting in March where at least 28 people had gathered. It’s believed the person who triggered the spread was a visiting pastor from Singapore who health officials would later call a super spreader.

Chowdhury says he remembers the pastor looking a bit tired but chalked it up to jet lag. "He was not coughing and he didn’t have a fever and he was talking normal,"

"We kind of sat around him and became a victim of the situation."

Chowdhury says of the 28 people who were present, four were hospitalized in ICU and one person passed away.

The province says this single prayer gathering is believed to have been linked to at least 34 positive cases. During that time, Premier Jason Kenney sent out a tweet about Chowdhury, intending to put a face to COVID-19. The premier called Chowdhury a friend and a model citizen.

Organs came back to life

Once Chowdhury woke up from his medically-induced coma, he says all his organs came back to life. He regained his speech but nerve damage sustained while on ventilation hindered his ability to walk.

He spent an additional three weeks in hospital while undergoing physiotherapy, bringing the duration of his stay to 47 days.

Chowdhury says stepping outside the hospital walls was the greatest feeling.

"The world is so good because I got fresh air the first time after 47 days and it was so, so good."

Chowdhury’s 12-year-old son Jafeth remained strong in his belief that his father would return home and a weight was lifted when they reunited.

"I was super happy because I finally get to see my dad again and he’ll be with us again," said Jafeth. "I can think more about the future and not about worrying about my dad in the hospital."

Chowdhury says the community came together and supported his family while he was in hospital, especially after the premier’s tweet. He's filled with gratitude for those who offered comforting words or dropped off food at their doorstep. He hopes his family’s story emphasizes the seriousness of the virus, and he implores people to be vigilant with social distancing and hand washing.

Recovery slow

The 51-year-old father continues to walk with a bit of a limp and doctors believe it will take up to four months for him to fully recover.

Chowdhury isn't bothered by the setback. As someone who has dedicated so much time to helping the community, he says he still has much work to do and is grateful for a second chance at life.

"I’m a community worker and I believe there is a lot of work to do for underprivileged people here in Calgary and Alberta and I have to keep moving. When things die down I have to fight for a cause and keep going from there.”