A suburban Chicago man who tested positive for the coronavirus is telling his story in hopes that he can help lessen fears among area residents, and to dispel misconceptions about the virus.
In an exclusive interview with “NBC Nightly News,” Tom Panocha and his son shared their story for the first time. Panocha is the first person in the U.S. to contract the virus from a person in the country, and when he was first diagnosed, his biggest fear was that he could spread the virus to the rest of his family.
“I was scared that I gave it to them, because I spent some time with them during that incubation period,” he said.
He was especially worried that he had spread the virus to his son David and to his grandson.
“I was so scared I gave it to them because I spent time with them during that incubation period,” he said.
Panocha got the virus from his wife, who flew back to Chicago in January from Wuhan, China.
“About five days after she got back, she started complaining about nausea,” he said.
Both Tom and his wife went into isolation at a Hoffman Estates hospital after they tested positive for the virus.
Panocha says that the virus didn’t affect him much, saying that it was less strenuous on his body than the flu, but his son David worried for his father because of his history of health problems.
“I know my dad also already had respiratory issues, so I was very scared,” he said.
Things took a scary turn for David Panocha when his son Kai came down with a 102-degree fever. The family rushed the young boy to the hospital, fearing the worst.
“They wouldn’t let me out of the car,” an emotional David said. “They just picked up the baby, took my partner and told me to go home and keep my door shut.”
David’s son and his partner were quarantined inside Lurie Children’s Hospital. David was finally allowed in after what he described as 24 of the most nerve-wracking hours of his life.
“They had to clear an elevator for me to get into the hospital,” he said. “They took every precaution not to make anyone sick.”
Fortunately for David and his son, they never got the coronavirus. David’s parents also were able to beat the virus, and have since been released from the hospital for a happy family reunion.
Now, Tom and David are hoping that their story will help soothe fears among residents about the virus. Tom Panocha told NBC News he would submit to testing to show how the virus affects the body, considering his duty to “contribute to science” in order to keep others from getting the disease.
At least five people have tested positive for the virus in the state of Illinois. The fifth positive test was announced by health officials Thursday.