4 years after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, LA County's 'patient zero' remembers milestone

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, March 12, 2024
4 years ago, WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic
Four years ago Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Today, L.A. County's "patient zero" recalls the milestone.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Four years ago, Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

We look back at this milestone through the eyes of a man who was one of the first patients in Southern California to get what was then called "Novel Coronavirus".

Gregg Garfield spent 64 days at Providence St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank, most of those days, fighting for his life. He was Los Angeles County's first COVID patient and was not expected to survive.

When emergency room physician Dr. Stephen Kishineff met Garfield four years ago, it was under far different circumstances.

"On that particular morning I couldn't breathe," said Garfield.

Kishineff immediately called pulmonary critical care specialist Dr. Daniel Dea.

"He said 'Dan we got our first COVID patient.' My heart skipped a beat and I kind of took a big gulp," Dea said.

Garfield was dubbed "patient zero." On March 11, 2020, when WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, Garfield was already fighting for his life.

"I spent 64 days here. The first 31 days, I was asleep," he said.

He suffered complete organ failure and was given a 1% chance of survival. In February 2020, Garfield got COVID-19 during a European ski trip with friends and family. After he was admitted, Southern California started to shut down. Garfield's world was changing fast and he had no idea what was happening.

"It was definitely a Rumpelstiltskin moment. So I woke up and I was educated really quickly on what was going on around me," he said.

"To paraphrase Oppenheimer, the COVID pandemic changed the world," said Dea.

He recalls how the four years dragged on.

"The first two years were pure hell. The end of 2020, I'm shocked I even got through it. We were just putting out fires. The hospital was full of nothing but very sick, critical COVID patients. By 2021, it started to lighten up. Maybe we could kind of see the end of it by 2021. By 2022 to 2023, life slowly started to come back to normal," Dea said.

When Garfield left the hospital, it was a high point for the staff. He hopes everyone remembers what happened four years ago and says he remains eternally grateful.

"I'm here and in the most healthy way possible. I'm 100% internally, I'm the luckiest person alive," Garfield said.

Today, Garfield speaks to groups hoping that his story will inspire them. He says that he knows so many people that were devastated by COVID, but says lessons about resilience can be used by all.