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Inside the life of a COVID long-hauler who "fought like an animal" to make it out of the hospital after 299 days

299 days with COVID
COVID patient goes home after 299 days and shares his journey 06:10

The past year has seen some dramatic swings in America's fight against COVID-19. But while the number of COVID cases are trending downward, some long-haulers are having a hard time recovering from the disease. 

Alex Castro of Sandy, Oregon, used to be able to swim, cook and hike, but now it takes every breath he has and baby steps, to just walk across his living room. 

At 44 years old, Castro is just a shell of the man he used to be. COVID caused him heart failure and ravaged his kidneys and lungs. 

He got infected with the coronavirus before there was a vaccine. His wife told CBS News' David Begnaud they didn't take the virus seriously. The couple thought it was just like the regular flu.  

Castro spent 299 days at Providence Portland Medical Center in Oregon — 108 of those days were spent on ECMO, which is a heart and lung bypass machine.   

Castro's oldest son AJ said Castro would be walked with the ECMO "maybe two, three days a week" as blood was being pumped out of his body and back into it, doing the work of his heart and lungs as he walked. 

"The health care workers and the nurses and the doctors all in the ICU, they were a godsend. They literally saved my dad's life," AJ said. 

ICU nurse Levi Cole said Castro "fought like an animal" to make it out of the hospital and on the day the hospital took Castro off the ECMO machine, Cole crawled into bed with him. 

"I gave him a big hug and we were both laughing. I had tears in my eyes with pure joy. We all dragged him across the finish line, but he did it himself," Cole said.  

Castro cannot remember half of the time he was in hospital, but he did remember Cole's hug. He got emotional as he listened to what Cole told Begnaud. 

AJ is his dad's primary caretaker during the day. He described to Begnaud what his life is like now. 

"I just turned up just the amount of oxygen that he's getting through his nose," AJ said. Castro is on oxygen around the clock and his doctor said he will be on it for the rest of his life. 

"Even like going to the bathroom, like walking with a walker with me to the bathroom, he'll do pretty good and then it'll literally just hit him out of nowhere," AJ said. "He's just super tired and he's out of breath and he'll take a seat wherever he is just to catch his breath again." 

One walk to the bathroom and about 10 simple arm exercises during occupational therapy really tired Castro out.  

After a short nap, Castro went to physical therapy where he did some knee bends and breathing exercises.  

Everyone is constantly watching Castro's oxygen saturation level, which dropped to 73 when Castro did some knee bends—95 to 100 are normal levels. 

Despite it all, Castro's spirit seemed strong. He said yes to everything they asked him to do.  

"Just standing on his feet is probably a better exercise than walking for him," one occupational therapist said. 

Castro standing on his own is a success in the eyes of his medical team. Castro once worked three jobs to support his family. He is now dependent on all of them. His wife and oldest daughter Mari now make most of the money. 

Mari manages the local Burger King where Castro used to work. He said he loved to work and wants to do it again but it is unclear if he ever will ever be able to. 

He's been out of the hospital for 20 days and there are notable improvements daily. Castro has since received the COVID vaccine. Doctors believe he will likely need a lung transplant.  

The hospital didn't disclose to CBS News what Castro's bill will be after spending 299 days there. But they did say that whatever Castro's insurance won't pay, the hospital will take care of the rest.   His wife created a GoFundMe page to help pay for any additional expenses that might incur during his long recovery and to make up for Alex's lost wages.

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