He was one of the state’s earliest known coronavirus cases.
Now, the family of a Hingham man who has been in the intensive care unit for nearly a month says he’s improving. And his wife is pleading with others to stay home and take safety precautions as the pandemic grows in Massachusetts.
“It was horrible,” Kim Bello told the NBC10 Boston Investigators. “Just so horrible.”
When Bello got the call to come to Massachusetts General Hospital last Saturday, she knew she might be saying goodbye to her husband of 22 years — the father of her three children.
Jim Bello, 49, was healthy with no underlying conditions that would have flagged him as especially vulnerable to the virus. The Hingham man was hiking the day his fever spiked to 103 degrees.
Kim Bello said her husband showed no other symptoms for three days, then started feeling tightness in his lungs. It wasn't even a cough yet, but his condition quickly deteriorated. On March 6, Kim Bello rushed her husband to South Shore Hospital, then to Mass. General, where he received a positive test result for COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“His entire lungs were whited out,” Kim Bello recalled, describing an image of her husband’s chest, “and he had no pockets for air whatsoever.”
Doctors put Jim Bello on a ventilator, and eventually an ECMO machine. The device provides extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, meaning it gives a patient’s lungs a break by drawing out their blood, oxygenating it and pumping it back into their body.
Even with the treatment, Jim Bello was getting sicker. Doctors were ready for what they called “Hail Mary” options, Kim Bello said.
“The ICU was frightening,” she said. “Every person I walked by was intubated and they looked like Jim. They looked like they were 50. They weren’t old."
Kim Bello sat with her husband, her face pressed against his skin.
“I just kept talking and I kept hugging him and I said, ‘I’m holding your hand,’” she said. “I knew he was fighting. I knew he was fighting hard.”
Jim Bello survived the night and the next day, and then he began to stabilize. His lungs are beginning to clear, and doctors are calling his recovery a miracle, Kim Bello said.
“He’s got an angel, and they’re the angels of MGH,” she said.
Kim Bello believes her husband wouldn’t be alive with the ECMO machine. And over the past few weeks, her family drew support from neighbors in Hingham. She is cautiously joyful for her family, but worries about what lies ahead for others. She’s channeling her energy into getting critical supplies to health care workers, and encouraging others to take precautions.
“I’m here to tell everyone this can kill very quickly” she said. “He went from healthy, climbing a mountain to the ICU on his deathbed within a week.”