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High school principal who nearly lost his life to COVID-19 shares his journey

Phil Eaton was unconscious and using a ventilator for nearly three weeks. "I shouldn't be alive," he says.

THE WOODLANDS, Texas — After spending 20 days on a ventilator fighting for his life, Phil Eaton is trying to get his body to work again. 

The 63-year-old's fight with coronavirus has taken a toll.

“I don't want to say I'm morbid, but over and over I hear, I shouldn't be alive," Eaton said.

Eaton is the principal at Lake Creek High School in Montgomery County. His battle with COVID-19 started with what he thought was just another sinus infection. But when his condition started to get worse, his doctor told him to go to the emergency room.

He was admitted to the hospital March 16.

"When they wheeled me into the acute care, or whatever they call it, they must have knocked me out to put the ventilator in my mouth— and that was it," he said.

Eaton doesn't remember anything after that. The whole time he was on the ventilator, he was unconscious as doctors and nurses tried desperately to save his life.

"They're trying everything they can to get the lungs right, and that taxes the kidneys,so then they got to battle the kidneys," Eaton said. "It's like putting a finger in a dike."

Since coming off the ventilator, he's starting to turner the corner. He is undergoing rehab at TIRR Memorial Hermann in The Woodlands, slowly building up muscle with each session. 

Eaton's been counting the days he'll be able to leave rehab, and more importantly, to be with his family after weeks apart. In the meantime, he uses Facetime and Zoom to connect with them.

Eaton said he has always considered himself religious, but through this experience his faith has grown stronger.

“There's people all over the country praying for me, and I know they feel very blessed right now, too, because they feel their prayers have been answered," Eaton said.

He has high praise for his doctors and nurses, and says if he’s lucky and strong enough, he’ll get to go home in two weeks.

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Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  Some patients also have nausea, body aches, headaches and stomach issues. Losing your sense of taste and/or smell can also be an early warning sign.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Follow social distancing

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

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