Eric Aft, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, discusses battle with COVID-19

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It’s hard to know what the coronavirus is really like, unless you’ve had it. And even then, there are many unknowns. Eric Aft has this firsthand experience.

Aft is the CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, a nonprofit based in Winston-Salem that moves 37 tons of food through its warehouses and out to its network of more than 460 partner programs. Those programs include homeless shelters, soup kitchens and other charitable organizations throughout the region.

On April 11, he was discharged from the Forsyth Medical Center after a more than two week battle with COVID-19. He’s now recovering at home and hopes to be back at work by the end of this month.

Here’s the verbatim of our virtual conversation:

*Neill*

“Eric, first of all, thank you so much for doing this with us. I was just wondering, how are you feeling today?”

*Eric Aft*

“I’m doing well, Neill. Appreciate the opportunity and all the support from this community has been amazing. I feel incredibly fortunate. and I think I’m about 90%. So I’m getting there.”

*Neill*

“Are you still running a fever or are you still coughing?”

*Eric Aft*

“No fever fortunately, that was one of the key elements of being able to be discharged from the hospital. No fever for at least 48 hours. The cough is lingering as well as quite a bit of fatigue.”

*Neill*

“I understand you first felt symptoms on March 27th. That was a Friday. Were you at work?”

*Eric Aft*

“I was actually out visiting a couple of our distribution sites. Kind of probably very late in the day, it was about five o’clock, actually, at one of the sites (I) kind of started to feel a little warm. When I got home about 30 minutes later, started to have chills and clearly had a fever. But as things progressed for me, one is the fever, the headache was just prevalent and would not go away for literally a week. Um, uh, you know, the entire time I had it. But the first five, six days, that was my most predominant symptom and then started to get a bit of a cough, but as evenings would go on, it became a little bit harder to breathe.”

*Neill*

“At what point did you feel you had to do something, you had to go to the ER?”

*Eric Aft*

“It was really when, you know, trying to take a deep breath was difficult.”

*Neill*

“When you got to the hospital and you were admitted, talk to me about what you faced psychologically while in the hospital. No family member could visit you.”

*Eric Aft*

“Right. You know, I, I had to drive myself to the hospital. You know, it was, again, being safe. My biggest concern was my family. I felt safe enough that I wasn’t endangering anybody on the road to fortunately just pop 10 minutes over to Forsyth Medical Center. I was nervous. I was scared, mostly concerned about my family,”

*Neill*

“Did you ever think, hey, this might be it?”

*Eric Aft*

“It was really the second trip to the emergency room for me. My breathing’s not getting better. I’m not sure what’s happening. I know that there’s such uncertainty over this virus and what it does and there’s not a specific playbook. So it did worry me when I walked out the door on Tuesday night and said to my wife and daughter, I said, I’ll, I’ll see you later. I made sure not to say goodbye. I said, I’ll see you later because I think all of us just needed to feel like everything will be okay. Even though, candidly, yeah, I was worried that maybe I wouldn’t be able to return home.”

*Neill*

“Eric, how do you think all of this has changed you as a person?”

*Eric Aft*

“So more than anything, it has motivated me that I’m doing what I need to be doing from professionally. Um, and I think it’s just how can I dedicate myself to be a better neighbor, a better friend to others who have been so kind to me and my family that I just need to be a better person as much, as much as I can.”

Aft also told me one of his biggest frustrations was not being able to get tested for COVID-19 before he was admitted to the hospital. Had he been tested earlier, he says it would have been helpful in getting the support he needed. He was also given the highly-publicized drug hydroxychloroquine for five days while in the hospital. He doesn’t know if it made a difference.

In the meantime, the food bank’s requests for food are up 40% just over the last two weeks. It really needs donations right now. If you’re interested, click here, feedcommunitynow.org

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