In March, Queens New York Pastor Benjamin Thomas developed a fever that refused to go away.
"I took Tylenol, Motrin, the temperature was not going down," recalled the preacher, who is in his 50s. He said he has been preaching for more than 30 years and had never been out sick from his job until then.
On March 23, he went to a health care facility. "They checked for COVID-19. I was positive.
He was then taken to Plainview Hospital where he was given antibiotics but they could not admit him because "there was no room".
After taking the antibiotics and staying home, his fever didn't go away. He also started experiencing shortness of breath. Four days later, on March 27, his frantic wife dialed 911. He was rushed to a medical centre alone. His wife could not accompany him due to COVID-19 restrictions.
What happened over the next several weeks, the pastor said, he only recalls from other people's memories.
"I walked into the ambulance. That's all I remember," he said.
Benjamin said he was placed on a ventilator. He was there for almost two weeks before being transferred at the end of April to the intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital under heart surgeon Dr. Robin Varghese.
Earlier, his church had started a chain prayer for him that went global.
"During the first couple of weeks of April we were not making much headway and there was one point in particular which was the night of April 19th when I got desperate," says Robin.
He explained that he and his team had done everything they could to save Benjamin's life but nothing would work.
"At that point, I went into his room late at night and I was on call and I just told God there is nothing else I can offer him. He's got to take over. We've given him everything that modern medicine can throw at him," the heart surgeon said.
After crying out to God, Robin said he decided to study the case some more and got some fresh ideas, which he and his team implemented to treat the Queens preacher. And Thomas began to improve.
"Since that night he started to make slow, very slow but steady progress. His lungs were just ravaged by the COVID-19 virus and he had been in an induced coma for over six weeks. By the middle of May we started to see hope that he was going to make it and we're very happy that he continued to progress and he started to wake up," Robin said.
"We're thankful for all the people who were continuing to pray for him because we know that that was a very important part of his recovery along with the care by our intensive care team."
Benjamin cried when he heard about the 54 days he missed while he was in a coma.
"It just goes to show the power of God. We can't understand or explain what happened to the others but we do know what happened here. And we're so thankful," hospital chaplain Rocky Walker said.
The time was hard not just for Benjamin but for his wife, and their daughter. His wife was unable to visit him and no one could visit her because of the lockdown. She became panicked and depressed, and had to be hospitalized for 17 days.
"She went through a very tough time but my 17-year-old daughter, God gave her the strength. She did not give up," Benjamin said.
"By the grace of God, I overcame COVID-19. I came home on July 2nd. I'm recovering," he said.
The pastor said he is grateful to have had a doctor like Robin who knows how to pray.
"Dr. Varghese is a great man of God," he said, who wasn't afraid to "lift the name of Jesus" in his time of need.
The Queens pastor, who will have to be assisted with oxygen for a while, said he hopes to get back to his congregation eventually. He currently connects with them through Zoom and other online platforms.
He urged the church to keep praying because "it works."
"Never give up. Prayer works. No matter what. We see miracles ... I'm a living miracle. The prayer of the church works," he said. "I was dead a couple of times at least in the last four months and God kept me. God brought me back."•