Five years ago, Danny Radice, 53, an exercise specialist in the St. Barnabas hospital cardiac rehab unit, had pulled Dr. Rick Pitera out of his own medical hell following a major heart attack. Afterwards they’d often run into each other in the hospital cafeteria, checking in on each other the way old friends do.
Radice was in the bathroom of his Roseland home when he felt his body slowly tilting. He called to his wife Christine and lowered himself to the floor as he lost consciousness. They had both tested positive for COVID-19 on March 20, but while Christine was improving, her husband had a fever that spiked at 103.8.
Danny Radice was intubated soon after his arrival at the hospital. His wife, a nurse who had worked with COVID-19 patients, knew what the odds were of his recovering: Thirteen percent.
Several days into Danny Radice’s hospital stay, Dr. Rick Pitera called his wife and that he had her husband’s back, just like her husband had his years earlier. “He saved my life,” Pitera said. “So I’m going to save his.”
Christine said she was “paralyzed” for those days when her husband was on the ventilator, unable to do much more than wait by the phone for updates.
After nearly a week on the ventilator Radice woke up morning on April 2. When Dr. Pitera saw Radice’s open eyes, he yelled toward the bed “HEY! You’re still here?!”
“I will never for the rest of my life forget that moment,” Radice said. “Because right then I knew I was going to be okay.”
He was moved to a private room. To use the bathroom, he got out of bed and stood up without a problem. But He couldn’t lift his foot off the floor. He would spend the next 15 days doing his own rehab exercises in his bed, slowly building his strength. The walk to his room’s sink, maybe 10 feet away, was a hike in the mountains.
Radice left the hospital on April 17, with employees from all over the hospital gathered in the hal. They clapped as he was wheeled to the elevator, and when he reached the ground floor, more were down there clapping — until Radice stood from his chair and fell into Christine’s warm embrace on the sidewalk outside.
Dr. Pitera was too busy with new patients to watch that emotional moment. But before Radice’s discharge they snapped a selfie: Radice in his patterned hospital gown and Pitera in his green scrubs and hair net.
A month before, Radice had asked Dr. Pitera — in writing because his throat was occupied by a ventilator tube — if if he was going to die that night. “Not if I can help it,” Pitera replied. “Not on my watch.”
Radice had saved Dr. Pitera’s life. The doctor had succeeded in returning the favor.