SAFETY HARBOR, Fla. — Zunya (Zucel) Solc waved his hands and gave a thumbs up as he was wheeled out of the BayCare Mease Countryside Hospital Friday, to a crowd of healthcare workers lining the halls cheering.
“I think I beat the odds, honest,” said the 70-year-old radiation oncologist.
"It felt like we could breathe again"
He spent the past month at battling COVID-19. When he recovered, he finally got to his hug his family again.
“It felt like we could breathe again,” said his daughter, Aliza Solc Stern. The moments were captured on camera, in his family’s hope they might help lift up others.
PHOTOS: COVID-19 survivor leaves hospital to cheers and hugs
“It’s a little bit of lightness in this dark time,” said his other daughter, Arielle Solc.
She said when she looked for inspiration during his father’s illness, it was tough to find any other videos so they wanted to be sure their moment was shared.
“It is a miracle that he is alive and that he even the progress since he’s been off the ventilator,” said Arielle.
The family said both he and his wife contracted the virus after returning from Peru visiting family and other travels.
“We’re not sure where along the way we picked up the virus,” his wife, Helaine Solc said.
She was sent home from the emergency room in March, but said Zunya was admitted. Within days, he was put on a ventilator he would remain on for two weeks.
Helaine said he came close to death twice. Meanwhile, she was quarantining, notifying the office where her husband worked and keeping track of her daughters. The sisters had traveled from New York to Michigan to be together, before heading to Florida.
“This was cruel this was absolutely cruel. I couldn’t be by him, the kids couldn’t see him, the kids couldn’t see me and here we are,” she said. “He’s our hero and he’s gonna die and what we did what I told them was you had the chance every day twice a day to say to him how much they loved him and how proud they were of him and that most people don’t say that in a lifetime.”
The family said the medical staff at the hospital, who they call their healthcare heroes, helped arrange two phone calls a day with Zunya. They described them as pep rallies, including encouragement and prayers with their rabbi’s.
“He truly loves life and loves to celebrate life and that’s what we kept reminding him of, you know to keep fighting, reminding him how strong he was,” said Aliza.
The family said the immense support from family, friends, healthcare workers, Rabbi’s and even moments of humor helped get them through.
“They gave him a hand to hold when we couldn’t physically be there,” said Arielle of medical staff.
"To feel like we were there when we physically couldn’t be to know they were holding our dad’s hand. We sent them a photo of our family and they printed it out and put it by his bedside, said Aliza.
His daughters and son-in-law Zack Stern created a video thanking the hospital team.
“What works is the fact that the most important thing I believe I had an excellent team and what I realize which I already know because I have worked in the medical team it takes real people dedicated people. But dedicated people you have to have it in your heart because it’s a calling,” said Zunya.
Zunya said he was otherwise healthy before the illness, but believes in addition to positive energy, his workouts with his trainer Joe also helped him.
"I think we have more questions than answers but this is a very humbling experience,” said Zunya.
He’s now continuing his recovery in a rehab facility, where he said his goal is to become independent. He has retired, moving up his planned summer retirement date.
“Then I will hopefully go home quarantine myself a few weeks or more than that who knows. Perhaps pick up a cookbook and cook with my wife have some wine,” he said.
“He’s doing fantastic,” Helaine said, "maybe they’ll teach him how to cook that should be a goal,” she added jokingly.
They also are reminding others to take the virus and measures to prevent it seriously.
“This is a horrid horrid virus and it’s destructive it’s killed people it’s killed our economy it’s killed people’s lives and I feel so bad but we need to be respectful and take care of ourselves,” said Helaine.
"I just hope people see this and realize there is a reason why we are all quarantining right now it will get better the stooging shall pass and we just have to have hope,” said Arielle.
The Solc’s call Zunya’s story a miracle.
"I’m looking forward this new age with fear apprehension but positive energy. It’s like a second chance, a second age and I need to embrace it,” he said.