CAMDEN – A Manchester police officer who recovered from a coma returned to Cooper University Hospital to thank those who took care of him.
Lt. Antonio Ellis contracted COVID-19 in spring of 2020. His battle made headlines as the community rallied to support him with the phrase “364 Strong,” named after his badge number. He finally made it home after his hospital stay and rehab on June 17, 2020. He received a special escort home by his brothers and sisters in blue.
“Although I spent almost 45 days here at Cooper, most of it I spent in a coma, which means I didn’t have a chance to properly thank a lot of you when I left,” Ellis said in a segment that was broadcast on CBS.
He was surrounded by staff and well-wishers.
“It was a very emotional experience and very powerful to be there. To meet so many of the doctors, nurses and staff that had worked so tirelessly to save my life was an honor,” he later told The Manchester Times. “The doctors and nurses that continue the fight this terrible virus day in and day out is almost unimaginable. I had made arrangements with the staff to come back because many times once a patient leaves critical care rarely does the staff get to see the full recovery post treatment. There were so many members that came up to me and expressed gratitude for taking the time to speak with them and how my appearance had motivated them to get back to work and revitalized them. That was the ultimate goal of my journey paying it back.”
“It would be easy to focus on Sgt. Ellis’ 44 days here at Cooper, 37 of them attached to a ventilator, 16 of them requiring ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) support, the countless weeks he spent in recovery, the nearly 91 days he spent away from his family. I’d rather not focus on illness. Today, we celebrate recovery,” said Jason Barlock, Program Director, Critical Care Medicine Fellowship.
This year, the Toms River resident ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Education under the slogan “Leadership Experience Values.” He touched on his former illness when interviewed by this newspaper.
“I am also a strong proponent of parental choice. I believe parents should have the ultimate say when it comes to the health and safety of their children. Although the school is responsible for their well-being during the school day, parents are still their legal guardians and as such should make the choices for them free of intimidation, punishment, and any type of mandates,” he said. “I am not running on an anti-mask or anti-vax platform, I just believe that it should be left to the parents to decide, not a politician. On a personal note, I am a COVID survivor who back in March 2020 was one of the first in Ocean County to contract the virus. After being admitted to the hospital, I spent weeks on a ventilator and was medically sedated in a coma for over 30 days. After spending a total of 94 days in the hospital and subsequent rehab, I fought hard to not only to survive, but to return to my family and my career. Not wasting the second chance I’ve been given, I want to continue to fight for your children like I fought for my life.”