Lawrence Garbuz spent two weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma after testing positive for COVID-19 in March

By Eric Todisco
May 11, 2020 10:40 AM

Lawrence Garbuz, the 50-year-old lawyer who was dubbed the coronavirus “patient zero” in New Rochelle, New York, is speaking out for the first time about his harrowing experience with COVID-19.

Garbuz, who has since recovered from the virus, told Today's Savannah Guthrie in an interview Monday that he thought he simply had a "slight cough" when he first fell ill in late February after returning from a recent Miami trip.

"I just thought it was a cough," he said. "Look, I'm a lawyer. I sit at a desk all day. I think at the time we were sort of focusing on individuals who had maybe traveled internationally, something that I had not done. I had certainly not been to China."

He continued on to explain that a few days before the diagnosis, he woke up with a lowgrade fever and decided to get examined.

"I went to the doctor, and he examined me, and he said I needed to go immediately to the emergency room,'' he said.

Garbuz, joined by his wife, Adina, for the interview, said that coronavirus wasn't on the couple's mind and didn't come up "at all" when the lawyer first went to the doctor.

Doctors initially assumed he had pneumonia — but once his condition worsened, he was moved to intensive care, the couple said, adding that Grabuz also had no underlying conditions.

Lawrence Garbuz
Credit: Today Show

"After we entered the emergency room, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired until I woke up from the coma," said Garbuz, who spent more than two weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma after he tested positive for COVID-19 on March 2.

"It was as if three weeks from my life had completely disappeared and I was asleep for all of it," he recalled.

Garbuz finally woke up on March 18 — a moment that Adina recalled to Guthrie. "He was just himself. The first words he said to me were, "I love you,'" she said.

The couple said that health officials were able to retrace Garbuz's steps and began testing those he had come into contact with for the novel coronavirus.

Adina, their 20-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter all tested postive for COVID-19, as did the neighbor who drove Garbuz to the hospital, medical staff at the hospital, members of his law firm and attendees at the Temple Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue, of which Garbuz is a member.

New Rochelle, NY
Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Following Garbuz's diagnosis, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a “containment zone” a mile around the Temple Young Israel, in order to help contain the spread.

On March 30, Gov. Cuomo announced that Grabuz had been released from the hospital.

“By the way, the patient zero … in Westchester, New Rochelle, who was very sick, he’s actually gone home,” Cuomo said in a press briefing at the time. “He’s out of the hospital.”

Now fully recovered, Garbuz told Guthrie that he "appreciates life a lot more" in the wake of his near-death experience and feels "blessed" to be alive.

"Every day is an absolute gift that God has given every one of us to enjoy, that we need to appreciate our family and our friends, and to live life," he said.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.