For the media

Bodybuilder and Sharp employee reflects on catching COVID

By The Health News Team | November 2, 2021
Troy Mealy

A year after surviving COVID-19, Troy Mealey urges others to be careful and to take the pandemic seriously.

Troy Mealey, a surgical technician at Sharp Memorial Hospital, didn’t think much about his slight coughing at first. Not only did the cough disappear in a few days, but Troy was in the absolute best shape of his life — about to compete in his first professional bodybuilding competition.

When a 103.6⁰ F fever hit, followed by indescribable exhaustion, Troy knew something was terribly wrong. His wife, Becki, a surgical nurse at Sharp Memorial, rushed him to the hospital’s emergency room one night in July 2020 after he woke up coughing uncontrollably and barely able to walk or breathe.

Troy, age 57, tested positive for COVID-19, and chest X-rays showed his lungs were so full of pneumonia that they appeared completely white on the scans. Too weak to breathe normally, he was placed in a medically induced coma on a ventilator.

“He was incredibly sick with dangerously low oxygen levels,” says Dr. Roland El Ghazal, a pulmonologist and critical care doctor at Sharp Memorial who treated Troy. “Truly, the odds of him surviving were very low.”

Becki wondered if she’d lose her husband to COVID-19. “I felt so lost and alone, not knowing if I’d ever see him alive again,” she says.

From bodybuilding to fighting for his life
The thought of Troy lying in a hospital bed — where he worked — and close to death was terrifying for Becki and their colleagues at Sharp Memorial. Just a year earlier, Troy had won his status as a professional body builder, a dream he’d had since he was 12 years old.

When he caught COVID-19, Troy had been training four days a week for his first competition and had only 4% body fat.

In Sharp Memorial’s COVID-19 intensive care unit, nurses alternated Troy from a prone position (lying face down) to the supine position (lying face up) to help his breathing. His high fever returned, and he developed ileus, a condition when the colon temporarily stops contracting normally to remove waste from the body — a common complication of critical illness when patients require paralyzing medications to allow the lungs to rest and control breathing completely with the ventilator.

After several weeks, Troy’s lungs recovered enough that he could be slowly taken off the ventilator and brought out of his coma. When he awoke, he was unable to keep his head up or hold a pen to write.

“To see my husband so weak on video calls was incredibly sad,” says Becki. “I leaned on his doctors, my family and friends, and my Sharp family as they checked on me daily. It’s what kept me going.”

A slow recovery
Finally, Troy tested negative for COVID-19 and was able to move into a regular room. He had lost 50 pounds and most of his muscle mass. He had to relearn how to breathe, sit up, eat and walk.

“I couldn’t stand on my own without an assistance device and the help of two physical therapists,” says Troy. “Even then, I could only stand for a few seconds before my oxygen level dropped drastically.”

Troy Mealy at Sharp Memorial Hospital

Troy is assisted by a Sharp Memorial caregiver as he recovers from being on a ventilator.

After 27 days in the hospital, with 19 of those days on a ventilator, he was well enough to return home.

Two months after he got sick, Troy returned to the gym to start exercising again. Although working out was difficult due to having lost muscle, he persevered and slowly regained strength.

“To have almost died was one of my biggest nightmares coming true,” he says. “I’m eternally grateful for the Sharp nurses and doctors who used their exceptional knowledge and skills to treat me.”

Troy will compete in bodybuilding competitions beginning in 2022. He will also be leaving Sharp soon to work as a personal trainer for the Houston Texans football team. Both he and his wife implore others to take the pandemic seriously and protect themselves, especially now that vaccines are available.

“I had taken every precaution I could to protect myself from catching COVID-19, and it still wasn’t enough,” says Troy, who doesn’t know where he caught the illness.

Dr. Cynthia Baffi, a pulmonologist and critical care doctor at Sharp Memorial who also cared for Troy, echoes the couple’s warning. While she is grateful that Troy survived, many of her patients haven’t been so lucky, she said.

“It’s just not normal to have to deal with this much death and dying every day, even in the ICU,” she says. “I always say, ‘If people could see what we see in the ICU and understood the seriousness of this illness, there would be no question that they would do anything to prevent it.’”

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.