Georgia football coach Kirby Smart joined hundreds at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center on Thursday to cheer an athletic department employee who went from being critically ill with the novel coronavirus to being released.
UGA football video coordinator Jeremy Klawsky needed to be intubated after being hospitalized, and doctors and nurses at Piedmont Athens Regional cared for him during his five-week stay.
Among the hundreds who celebrated his discharge at about noon were hospital employees inside as he came through the hall and UGA athletic staffers outside including athletic director Greg McGarity, director of sports medicine Ron Courson and other coaches.
“We are just thrilled that he is home,” his mother Sherry Klawsky said from his Athens townhouse. “The hardest part, when he was on the ventilator, is over. He’s home now and he can start to get stronger and really move forward.”
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Klawsky, 32, started as an assistant football video coordinator at Georgia in 2018.
As a video coordinator, he films footage on game day that goes to NFL teams, is involved with videos used for recruiting and provides “cut-ups” of video for Bulldog coaches.
This was the first time hospital employees had a “hero’s walk” celebration like the one on Thursday at a discharge for a COVID-19 patient, Piedmont Athens Regional spokesperson Sydney Walker said. Physicians, nurses, therapists, administrators and support staff took part.
“I really want people to know the staff in the hospital, especially the ICU, is just an amazing group of people,” his mother said. “When you think about it, it’s overwhelming for a family coming in, never having a family member sick like this, and having to understand terms and numbers to really understand what the condition is like.”
She traveled from South Florida to Athens on Feb. 22 to help out after Klawsky and his girlfriend had adopted a puppy from Alabama. Her husband Stew a week later flew to Athens and they drove back to Florida.
On March 2, Jeremy felt ill and went to an urgent care center and tested positive for flu A. On March 6, he felt worse, and two days later, he experienced shortness of breath.
“We weren’t thinking COVID,” she said. “All we heard was flu A and that was about it.”
After running a 105-degree fever at a doctor’s appointment on March 10, he was taken by ambulance and went to the ICU, where he remained for more than four weeks. His breathing tube was removed on April 3, his mother said.
Klawsky did not have any underlying condition that would have made him more susceptible to COVID-19, she said. He was tested for the virus on March 16 and it came back positive on March 18. She suspects that he may have contracted the virus at the urgent care clinic.
“What probably helped him to no end, he exercises almost every day,” she said. “There’s a gym right by where he lives. That’s his life: the football team, exercising and every sport you can think of. He was in great shape.”
UGA informed the campus community on the day Klawsky tested positive that an Athletic Association staff member was positive for COVID-19 and was being treated in a local hospital. He was last on campus on March 6. The school said at that time that another athletics staff member who had contact with Klawsky, who had not been identified publicly before Thursday, was under self-quarantine at home with no symptoms.
UGA says 29 members of the school’s community have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday.
After he tested positive for the coronavirus, his parents were not able to visit him in the hospital.
“He was completely out,” she said. “He was in a paralyzed state. Any time they had to put him on his stomach, he had to be completely out.”
The plan is for Klawsky to rehab in Athens, and his parents will stay with him.
“It’s amazing how communities and people all over the globe have come together,” she said. “A lot of my background is I worked internationally in telecommunications and we have heard from people literally all around the globe.”