A year after being weaned off a ventilator and emerging from a coma amid COVID-19, a Monmouth County man has raised thousands of dollars for his life-saving medical team by running 20 miles between the two hospitals that treated him.

Paulo Santos, of Manalapan, decided early into his recovery that he would try to pay back to the hospital staffers that managed to get him home to his family after being one of the pandemic's earliest ICU patients.

After checking into CentraState Medical Center in mid-March 2020, Santos suffered respiratory failure due to “double” pneumonia. He was intubated and put into a medically induced coma.

He woke up a few weeks later on April 7, 2020 — his 39th birthday — at a different hospital, with no idea of his serious illness in between.

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Santos had been transferred to Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center as it had been approved for trial treatment of Remdesivir.

“He was in severe distress and we really weren’t sure if he was going to make it,” Jersey Shore University Medical Center Director of Critical Care, Dr. Eric Costanzo said in a written statement, of Santos' initial arrival upon his transfer.

On April 10, 2020, he was discharged home to his wife, then-8-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

COVID survivor, Paulo Santos with his family (courtesy Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation) runs 20 miles for fundraiser
A send-off for Paulo Santos by CentraState team members (courtesy Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation)

Santos was 45 pounds lighter than when he had sought treatment and had serious physical therapy ahead to relearn how to eat and walk.

While he was rehabbing, Santos suffered another medical emergency, this time a heart attack in September, which he said he was told was likely a COVID-19 side effect.

“It set me back a month or so from being able to run a little faster, but other than that, it didn’t really stop me from doing what I had to do,” Santos said to New Jersey 101.5.

Mental strength is one of Santos’ biggest takeaways from the intense medical journey he has been on.

“We have to know that we can do it, or we have to push our body a little more — recovery is as much up to us as it is to them,” he said, in referring to following his doctors’ advise and recommendations.

The goal of fundraising by retracing his path to recovery was set in part for himself, and also as a testament to the hospital workers on the front line of the pandemic.

“For him to be running the 20 miles from Freehold to Neptune is an absolute miracle, and all of us – his entire care team – are truly humbled and thankful for what he is doing for our hospitals,” Costanzo said.

COVID survivor, Paulo Santos with his family (courtesy Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation) runs 20 miles for fundraiser
COVID survivor, Paulo Santos with PTs at Jersey Shore Medical Center (courtesy Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation)

On Saturday, Santors started his journey after 7 a.m. at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold.

He arrived at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune just before noon, greeted by a cheering crowd of hospital workers and loved ones.

As of Monday evening, Santos had raised nearly $14,000, which is going to the medical foundations of both hospitals via his GoFundMe campaign.

“I’ve been using the tagline ‘thriver, not survivor’,” Santos said.

“When we use the word survivor I think we fall back on the idea that we have an excuse to not work as hard or try as hard because we’re survivors, we’re in recovery ... And all these kinds of words,” he continued.

“I think at this point, let’s move past that and let’s find a way to thrive. I think our hospitals and nurses and doctors want nothing more than to see us succeed and fight and work our butts off to get better and be better all the time.”

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