9 February 2021
He is the Southampton emergency department nurse whose ‘miraculous’ recovery from COVID-19 left medics astounded.
Laszlo Penzes has told his story for the first time as he backs the COVID ZERO campaign and warns that anyone – even the young, fit and healthy – can find themselves in a fight for life with the deadly disease.
The dad-of-two had been given a 40 per cent chance of pulling through as he battled for life on a ventilator while a specialist machine pumped and oxygenated his blood, allowing his immune system one final chance to fight the virus.
That was almost two weeks after first starting to show symptoms of coronavirus that Laszlo, 45, was put in an induced coma and transferred from Southampton to London in a last ditch bid to save his life.
Laszlo had started to feel ill and began isolating on April 15 – the same time that his wife Timea, who works as an emergency department nurse in Portsmouth, also started to display symptoms.
Their sons Patrik, 21, and 18-year-old Armin also fell ill. A test confirmed two days later that Laszlo did indeed have the virus.
But while Timea and their children began to recover, Laszlo – who has no underlying health conditions and was fit and healthy – got gradually worse.
Laszlo said: “There came a point on 23 April, when an ambulance was called because I was struggling to breathe.
“It was the strangest experience to be patient in my own workplace, but it was also comforting as I was being treated and cared for by my work family.”
Laszlo was moved to the intensive care unit for non-invasive treatment, but as things deteriorated further he was placed in an induced coma. Days later it was decided that a more serious level of intervention was required.
On 29 April, he was transferred to Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London for ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) therapy – a machine that offers life support by providing heart and respiratory support to patients, allowing his body to focus on fighting the infection.
He said: “There was this blind spot between going in to the deep sleep and waking up in London. I woke up wondering what had happened an put all these puzzle pieces back in place.
“The lead consultant called my wife and told her my chances of survival had dropped to 40 per cent. He said if I did live, I would be expected to spend at least three weeks on this machine and then a long time afterwards in intensive care.”
But to the amazement of those treating him, eight days later on May 6, Laszlo had recovered enough to be disconnected from the machine.
He said: “It has been counted as a miracle in their words, as they don’t have a rational explanation as to how I recovered so quickly.
“On 11 May I was stable enough to be returned to Southampton where I spent nine more days in hospital before I was allowed home.
“I am still recovering and am left suffering some side effects, but that is a small price to pay for getting another chance to live again.”
“It was amazing how quickly I went through this whole process from a very frightening start.
“Part of me obviously wishes never to have gone through that whole experience but part of me, although it sounds strange, is kind of happy because this type of experience becomes the story of your life. You start appreciating the small things that perhaps you didn’t notice before.
“The emergency department family is quite a large team but they have all turned in to best friends and blood family now.
“We were overwhelmed by how much love, kindness and support has been poured over us in the last few weeks.
“I am now so full of optimism and hope and I am really looking forward to the journey that lies ahead of me.”
Urging Southampton residents to maintain social distancing and back the campaign, Laszlo said: “I have seen both sides of this pandemic through my job as a nurse and now as a patient. I know only too well how bad it can get.
“We need to all be very cautious and do everything we can to protect our loved ones and protect the hospital and its staff from COVID-19.”
Speaking now, nearly a year later: “I would say that despite all the odds and challenges that I went through, I feel lucky that I was able to see the pandemic from both sides of the hospital bed. Both as a staff member and patient.
For many people, the work being done in Intensive Care is probably unimaginable for those who have never seen intubation (ventilation).
I can speak for many people walking in the same shoes as me, that the work the NHS is doing is very much appreciated.
Nothing that you do for your patients goes unnoticed. Whenever I think of Intensive Care, I think of one of my favourite quotes which says “people might forget what you said, people might forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Even if I forget the faces and the names, or the specific details of my stay, I will always remember how you made me feel secure, safe, and at the centre of your care.”
Press release: University Hospital Southampton
Let’s give our amazing NHS heroes room to do what they do best.
Our General Intensive Care Unit treats around 2,500 every year. All of them have severe, life-threatening conditions ranging from serious infections to injuries from major accidents. And it is where many patients with coronavirus are treated.
A gift to our appeal will help us to kit out the new state-of-the-art unit which is currently being built. Help us to give our sickest patients the world-class care they deserve.