This year’s trip to the Grand Strand for spring break went much better for Joe Gallucci and family than their visit last year.
In 2021, Gallucci and his wife, Kelly, both came down with COVID-19 symptoms during the family’s trip from Ohio. Although Kelly’s illness remained mild, Joe Gallucci spent two weeks in the critical care unit at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital battling for his life.
During a return trip to the area for spring break this year, Joe Gallucci made sure to send along thanks to the hospital team for the care and kindness he received.
“They are truly heroes over there,” Joe Gallucci says. “They saved my life.”
The first symptoms
Joe Gallucci first began to experience symptoms – a fever – during the family’s 12-hour trip from the Cleveland area.
After his family arrived at their spring break rental in Murrells Inlet, Joe laid down to rest and remained there for an entire day.
“We thought he was just catching a cold,” Kelly Gallucci says.
A COVID-19 test told another story: Joe had caught the virus. Eventually, Kelly Gallucci also tested positive.
While Joe and Kelly isolated themselves on the upper floor of their rental home, their three daughters — Grace, 17, Gianna, 16, and Genna, 13 — remained free of the illness and stayed with Kelly’s sister, Heather, and her family.
Rather than improve, Joe’s fever and weakness only got worse. He was rushed to Tidelands Waccamaw, where he was admitted to the critical care unit.
“He was very sick. He was teetering on the edge of needing to be intubated,” says Tidelands Health registered nurse Geena Scalzo, part of the critical care unit team that cared for Joe during his stay.
No one expects their vacation to include a trip to the hospital – and certainly not an extended stay, Scalzo says. But at Tidelands Health, caring for vacationers is an important part of the health system’s role within the region.
A source of support, information
Because Joe Gallucci had COVID-19, a highly contagious illness, Kelly and the couple’s daughters weren’t able to visit him. Instead, Kelly kept up with his progress through daily phone calls with Scalzo and others members of Joe Gallucci’s care team.
“I was afraid I was going to lose him,” Kelly Gallucci says.
Faced with pneumonia and low oxygen levels, Joe nearly needed to be placed on a mechanical ventilator.
“Every breath was difficult,” Joe Gallucci recalls. He found some relief when critical care unit staff placed him on his stomach.
A turn for the better
By the end of their planned weeklong vacation, members of the family had to go their separate ways. The girls flew back home to Ohio to return to school. Kelly stayed behind but had to find a new place to stay from week to week.
As his care team treated Joe Gallucci for COVID-19, they also focused on helping him maintain a positive attitude to support his recovery, Scalzo says.
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“It’s easy to forget about the mental component to COVID and how important it is to manifest your health — to think positively,” she says.
Eventually, Joe began responding to the treatments he received, and he was able to transition out of the critical care unit. Toward end of April, Joe’s condition had improved enough that he could be discharged from the hospital with portable oxygen to help maintain his blood oxygen levels.
However, still facing a high risk of blood clots, Joe couldn’t safely travel home until May 1 — a month after he and his family set out for vacation. A tearful family reunion followed his flight back to Ohio.
An opportunity to give thanks
Joe and Kelly brought their family back for another spring break visit this year. During that visit, they sent a long thank-you letter to the critical care unit staff at Tidelands Waccamaw praising the team’s dedication to caring for Joe and their willingness to allay Kelly’s concerns every day during Joe’s stay.
“You all went above and beyond my expectations — the level of care was remarkable,” Joe Gallucci wrote. “Thank you for the work you do. YOU ALL ARE HEROES. Not seeing my family for weeks, you became my family, and I felt appreciated, loved and part of your family.”