For the media

‘I have to move forward’

By The Health News Team | May 18, 2020
‘I have to move forward’

Don Udan lost 40 pounds and nearly all of his strength during his hospitalization with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Now he’s home and thinking about what’s next.

Every morning, Don Udan steps outside his house for a walk around the neighborhood. Although he goes out early when the streets are still quiet, Don always wears a mask. Sometimes he brings gloves and hand sanitizer too.

Don, 32, is now home after spending six weeks at
Sharp Memorial Hospital with a severe case of
COVID-19. He was on a ventilator, in a medically induced coma, for nearly three of those weeks.

Before he became ill, Don worked as a certified nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility and was in school to become a registered nurse. While hospitalized, he lost 40 pounds and nearly all of his strength.

He's had to relearn how to sit up, balance, walk down the hall and use stairs. His morning walks are critical to rebuilding his stamina.

"I still don't know how I got COVID-19, so every single thing I do, I'm still very careful," Don says. "It took a great effort for me to go on that first walk, but I can't stay inside forever. I have to move forward."

From fever and chills to a ventilator
Don's illness was one of San Diego's first cases of "community spread" COVID-19, meaning the source of his infection couldn't be traced. He was hospitalized on March 14, five days before California's stay-at-home order was announced.

In early March, Don began experiencing chills and had a 103° F fever that wouldn't go away. He felt worse as the days went on, and started to feel dizzy and have trouble breathing.

Don's mother encouraged him to go to the emergency room at Sharp Memorial. He was immediately admitted to the newly opened COVID-19 intensive care unit and tested for the disease.

At that time, results were still taking several days, and Don's health continued to worsen. Only one day after coming to the hospital, his doctor decided Don needed a ventilator to mechanically pump air into his struggling lungs.

Alone, with no family allowed by his side, Don texted a friend: "Am I going to die?"

"My nurses told me everything would be OK, but I was so scared," Don recalls. "I didn't know any of these people, and they were all in hazmat gear. A nurse held my hand really tight, and I knew nothing after that."

A long recovery
Don remained on a ventilator for 18 days before his lungs recovered enough to breathe on their own. Regaining consciousness, his memories from those first few days are mostly a blur, but he does recall ICU caregivers cheering for him as he was moved to a step-down unit for patients whose condition isn't critical.

As the fog of his medically induced coma slowly lifted, Don began to realize what he'd survived, and how much rehabilitation was still ahead of him. He steadily hit milestones, such as breathing without supplemental oxygen, taking steps with a walker and climbing stairs. When his feeding tube came out, his nurses played his favorite song - fittingly, "I Will Survive" - and sang and danced outside his room in celebration.

Don Udan leaned on his caregivers for emotional support as he steadily hit milestones after leaving the ICU at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

Don Udan leaned on his caregivers for emotional support as he steadily hit milestones after leaving the ICU at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

After 39 days in the hospital and two tests that confirmed he no longer had COVID-19, Don was healthy enough to go home.

"They wheeled me out and everyone was cheering, but my head was not there," Don says. "It should have been the happiest day of my life, but I felt mixed emotions. I got attached to the staff, to the nurses; they became my family, they became my friends. When no one could visit me in the hospital, they would be there, even for a simple chat, to make me feel like I was not alone."

Getting stronger each day
Don is now back at home, where he lives with his parents. He helped care for them before his illness; now, it's the other way around.

Don is feeling stronger every day. He's resting, watching a lot of movies and trying to gain back some of the 40 pounds he lost. His mom's home cooking helps.

Although he's not back to work yet, Don plans to enroll in a summer class and continue working toward his nursing degree. He wasn't sure what type of nursing he wanted to pursue before his illness; now he's decided to work in hospitals, to pay forward the kindness and compassion he received at Sharp.

"Every hospital can give medicine to people, but how my nurses treated me was indescribable," he says. "They made me feel like everything would be OK. That's something you can never pay back. There's no price for that."

For the news media: To talk with Don Udan about his COVID-19 recovery for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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.