ROBBINSVILLE, NJ -- He was enjoying his college spring semester studying abroad.
Based out of London and traveling through Europe to cities that included Amsterdam, Budapest, Barcelona and Milan, it was supposed to be an experience of a lifetime.
That's when COVID-19 (coronavirus) began to spread and a travel ban for American citizens went into effect. On March 13, 21-year-old Ashwin Reddy of Robbinsville Township boarded a plane in Milan, Italy and returned to America when he knew immediately that something was wrong.
Reddy spoke exclusively to TAPinto Hamilton/Robbinsville about his battle with coronavirus and his month-long road back to recovery.
"As soon as I got on the flight, I was feeling that something was not right. I thought my body was maybe tired and worn out," said Reddy. "But, four hours into the flight, which was mostly empty, I felt chills over my entire body, a cough and a headache. I didn't have a thermometer, so I couldn't tell if I had a fever."
Reddy said he had a mask for the flight and wore it the entire time. Ironically, the movie "Contagion" was playing. As he crossed the Atlantic Ocean, he began to feel sicker and sicker and told his parents, who were meeting him at the airport, to prepare a room at home for him to self isolate in. By the time he arrived home Reddy had a fever of 103 degrees. He wrapped himself in a towel and experienced "one of the worst nights of my life."
The maximum dose of Tylenol over the next 24 hours only brought his fever down slightly, and the use of his asthma inhaler "wasn't helping a ton" to combat his shortness of breath. On March 15, Reddy and his parents called Capital Health Medical Center in Hopewell and asked to be tested for COVID-19. He drove to the hospital alone with his parents in another car to prevent them from contracting it.
Medical staff met him at the entrance to the hospital dressed "completely like out of that movie Contagion I had watched on the flight. It was an absurd feeling, but I wasn't terrified because I knew my age played a factor."
Ashwin's parents, however, were not allowed into the hospital to be with him. His temperature and vital signs were taken in the emergency room, and he was asked about his recent travels. He then was given the coronavirus test which "felt like they were almost touching my brain." Reddy believes that he would not have been given the test had he not been traveling in Italy, which at the time was an outbreak hot spot.
Reddy was deemed healthy enough to return home for self-isolation, but was told to return to the hospital if his shortness of breath worsened. Antibiotics helped him breathe easier, but the cough remained. For one week he waited in isolation for test results that eventually came back positive.
With the help of a family friend, who was a doctor, and a cousin, who is a medical student, Ashwin took self-isolation very seriously. His parents would leave his meals at the bedroom door, where he was holed up. Those dishes remained inside for the entire 14-day isolation.
"I wish I had more guidance on what to do to get better, or about the fever as opposed to feeling like I had to rely on my system to beat it," said Reddy, whose fever finally broke after five days. He felt better, although the dry cough persisted for two weeks.
After watching a cable news segment about the potential for coronavirus survivors to help others fighting it, Reddy contacted Hackensack University Medical Center. He was tested again for coronavirus, which now was negative. He was deemed a good candidate to donate plasma.
"I get queasy having blood taken, but I am hoping it helps people," said Reddy, who added that the doctors believe his plasma donation can help up to three critically-ill coronavirus patients. But the doctors are still unsure if he could contract the virus again.
To those who may feel they have been exposed, or have been diagnosed with the virus, Ashwin says: "Don't panic. People should know it's fight-able. Rest up, drink a lot of fluids, and listen to your health care providers. Self-isolate and do your part in bringing this virus to an end. Now is not the time to take things lightly or downplay it because you don't want to stay home. Don't be selfish."
Because they followed stringent self-isolation protocols, Ashwin's parents have not contracted the virus. He said, however, that he's heard that several fellow students in the study abroad program from throughout the country also have contracted coronavirus from their time in Europe. Some have only experienced more mild symptoms, such as a loss of sense of smell.
Reddy applauded the leadership in Robbinsville, where he has called home since he was two. In particular, he thanks Mayor Dave Fried for all that he has done to help the community by doing whatever he can to keep his residents safe.
Now, a rising senior study at Indiana University's Kelley School of Finance, Reddy said he hopes to be able to keep his internship at an investment firm in Chicago, but is not sure if the coronavirus outbreak will force it to be withdrawn.