Westchester’s Coronavirus “Patient Zero” Breaks Silence

Lawrence Garbuz and wife Adina Lewis (courtesy photo)
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By Hadassa Kalatizadeh

The lawyer who unwittingly because Westchester’s “patient zero” has for the first time spoken in an  interview.  In a sit-down session with NBC News’ “Today” which aired on Monday, Lawrence Garbuz said that when doctors first examined him, there was “no mention” of the deadly novel coronavirus that has since shaken the world, shut down the country, and infected over 335,000 in NY state alone.

Garbuz, 50, became the first known carrier in New Rochelle, where the virus spread rapidly.  The lawyer, who was released from the hospital in late March, was the second person in the state diagnosed with the coronavirus.  “I just thought it was a cough. A winter cough and quite frankly, I’m not certain that any of the sort of medical staff had been thinking about that initially when they examined me,” he said.  When asked by host Savannah Guthrie if the doctor during his first visit brought up the possibility of the novel virus, Garbuz responded, “Not at all. There was no mention of it at all.”

“I’m a lawyer. I sit at a desk all day. I think at the time we were sort of focusing on individuals who had maybe traveled internationally, something that I had not done,” he added.   A father of four, who rode the Metro-North train to get to commute to his Manhattan law firm, likely contracted the illness locally.

His wife, Adina, who sat by his side for the interview, said they originally thought it was pneumonia, but that he kept getting “worse and worse.”  She said, a “healthy, vibrant person, all of a sudden overnight gets so sick so quickly. I know that at this point, we’re not so surprised by that. But at that time, it was shocking.” When she first learned that he had COVID-19, she said she was “on the phone through the night with various departments of health finding out what to do, and sharing everywhere we went,” adding, “I didn’t want anybody else to get sick.”

After some time, she thought it would be best to transfer her husband to a larger hospital in Manhattan.  “I just didn’t think he was gonna make an ambulance ride,” said Adina, who insisted her husband be intubated for the ambulance ride.

As reported by the NY Post, eventually, Garbuz had to be put into a medically induced coma. “My wife saved my life,” he said. “After we entered the emergency room, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired until I woke up from the coma.”  Unbeknownst to him, the novel virus spread quickly in his community, making Westchester the first coronavirus hotspot in the U.S.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo even instituted a mile-radius “containment zone” around the family’s synagogue.   Over 31,000 people in Westchester County have been infected, and more than 1,341 people there have died from coronavirus, as per state data. At the virus’ peak, the county was recording 30 to 40 deaths each day.

“I really have not focused on any of the media frenzy in terms of one of the first patients to get it,” Garbuz said. “But I have been focused more on, as I say, getting better.”

Garbuz’s daughter, Ella, expressed her relief and gratitude for having her dad back home from the hospital.  “This is just like a miracle for all of us,” she said.

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