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COVID-19 Patient Recovers From Double Lung Transplant

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

About 540,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States. Andrew Capen was nearly one of them. He was 33 and training for a sales job in Corpus Christi, Texas, in July when he contracted the coronavirus. The disease hit him so hard, he needed a machine to breathe for him for nearly six months. But Andrew Capen underwent a double lung transplant at Houston Methodist Hospital. He is recovering and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

ANDREW CAPEN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How are you feeling?

CAPEN: Much better.

SIMON: Boy, that's simple (laughter).

CAPEN: In comparison to how it was just two months ago or even a month ago, I'm much, much better.

SIMON: Well, that's very good to hear. Do you mind taking us back to last summer?

CAPEN: So - was in Corpus Christi, was training at a new job, just doing sales, stuff like that, and I had to fly down from Denver. I started feeling sick. And we knew everything about COVID and everything like that, so I was being really careful. Then all of a sudden, like, I went - I got a thermometer, looked at the thermometer and turns out that I had, like, a low-grade fever. So that's when I started to worry.

SIMON: And when did you wind up at Houston Methodist?

CAPEN: Houston Methodist was the fourth hospital I went to. The first hospital was just the place that the ambulance took me. They admitted me. They knew I had COVID, and I went to the COVID wing at Doctors Regional. And then when I was - just kept on getting worse and worse at Doctors Regional, they ended up transferring me to BAMC in San Antonio, where they actually have ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Do you know anything about ECMO?

SIMON: I know it saved your life. I know it helped you breathe for six months. Yeah.

CAPEN: It did save my life. It saves a lot of lives.

SIMON: What were those months like for you?

CAPEN: All the medicine and stuff they had me on - I was hallucinating. I was in and out of sleep. Well, a lot of it I don't remember. Or if I do remember, I don't remember it correctly. I thought dinosaurs were in the bathroom. In my defense, when they shut that bathroom door, it did make kind of a dinosaury (ph) sound. I couldn't see my family, either. I had thought that my mom died in a car crash or a plane crash, I think. And they were telling me that my mom was fine, but I didn't believe them. Like, I stopped trusting them just because my hallucinations were getting so bad and, you know, couldn't have any visitors because of COVID.

SIMON: Was there a time when you wondered if you would get through it?

CAPEN: There were a couple of times where I almost didn't. There were, like, those times where you got really close. You see the look on the doctor's face was a little worried, and that's when you're kind of worried. It's like those bomb technician shirts that says on the back, I'm a bomb technician. If you see me running, try to keep up.

SIMON: (Laughter).

CAPEN: Yeah, like, if the experts are worrying, then you got to worry. And so that's where I was at. And then once I was allowed to get visitors again, I started, like, pulling out of, like, the crazy whirlwind that I was in and started, you know, being able to interact with people.

SIMON: I understand that you have an interest in comedy.

CAPEN: Yeah, I've been doing it for years now, like, you know, open mics. It's not paying the bills, but it's definitely my release.

SIMON: Can we look forward to you doing a stand-up routine about - let me tell you about my COVID?

CAPEN: Yeah, I'm actually already working on some stuff.

SIMON: (Laughter). Is there a line you want to try on us?

CAPEN: Well, the one thing that I was thinking about was the people that thought it was, like, a hoax. I definitely want to talk about them, like - because one guy, before I got sick - he was like, do you know how many people your age have died? I want to go back and tell them, like, hold my beer because I almost died multiple times.

SIMON: (Laughter) All right. So you were fortunate, lucky, blessed enough to be the recipient of a double lung transplant. And I understand, as part of your therapy to recover, you've been playing the harmonica. I think we have a recording of your harmonica artistry here. Let's play it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAPEN: (Playing harmonica).

LIZ: (Singing) Always tomorrow. Lean on me.

SIMON: Is that Joni Mitchell singing with you? Who is it?

CAPEN: No, that's actually my music therapist, Liz (ph). She's very good. She does music therapy here. Very good, relaxing - it's very good for anxiety.

SIMON: How does it feel to be able to blow the harmonica?

CAPEN: Great, and that's my new lungs right there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAPEN: (Playing harmonica).

SIMON: How does that feel?

CAPEN: Super weird, but I'm thankful that - to the donor, the family, everybody that helped me get here.

SIMON: You feel in a way you're living for two people now?

CAPEN: When you value life as much as I do now - like, whenever I hear about how many people that died from COVID, it bothers me way more than it did beforehand. Beforehand, it was just a number. And now, like, I know what it is to go through that.

SIMON: Yeah.

CAPEN: So yeah, I'm living for two people. But realistically, I'm living for everybody in my family that - like, their heart would've have been torn out if I had died. Like, you mean something to other people, and that's kind of what you hold on to more because if it's just you, you know, sometimes, it's easier to just let go.

SIMON: Andrew Capen, COVID survivor, double lung transplant recipient and comedian, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

CAPEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.