Two Indian Americans who survived COVID-19 tell of suffering and efforts to help others

Pramod Bhagat

Ritu Jha-

On Sunday, March 15, Pramod Bhagat went to Costco, had dinner with friends, and happily returned home without knowing the next several weeks were going to be terrible, and he would be one among the millions who would not forget how COVID-19 feels when it attacks.

New Jersey-based Bhagat told indica by phone that he soon felt sick and thought it might be flu but his condition got worse as he developed a fever with temperatures rising higher and higher.

“I had no coughing, but I was feeling weak and 103-degree high fever,” said Bhagat, who is an IT professional, a yoga practitioner, and a kind of community leader, as he recalled how each day was hard and the coronavirus infection started showing its symptoms. Still, he denied agreeing he had COVID-19.

“I thought it might be a flu,” Bhagat, who is in his 50s, said with a pause, which showed he was weak still.

But when his family and friends asked him to get checked since he was getting worse, he visited his doctor and was put on Tylenol and self-quarantined in his basement, alone.

When asked what his doctor said, Bhagat replied with a laugh, “Even my doctor did not assume at that time I have COVID.”

His doctor asked him to take vitamin C and warm water along with the Tylenol, and the test result came a few days later on Wednesday – he tested positive for COVID-19.

Recalling how fast his health deteriorated in just six days, Bhagat said his chest hurt a lot, he experienced shortness of breath and he was not able to sleep nor sit down.

“Each day was like a hell, and scary when I lost the power to smell, even camphor or incense sticks smell.

“Oh, the family was adamant to admit me to the hospital, but I kept on denying,” he said and added he was not eating … hardly one or two spoons of porridge (daliya) and his breathing capacity was terrible.

And too many Tylenol started showing side effects.

A few doctor friends asked him to go to the hospital and be put on an oxygen mask, but, Bhagat, scared of going to the hospital, said he never wanted to go to the hospital.

“I was scared … a little, yes. I thought when they are not giving any treatment, what’s the use of going?” he said.

Then diarrhea started. His doctor along with his family and friends all asked him to visit the hospital, but instead of going to the hospital, Bhagat called his father who lives in Munger in Bihar, India.

Between doctors and COVID, he said he forgot yoga might have some remedy if there is no medicine yet.

He described his health problem to his father: “I had 104-degree fever, lost the taste, smell means – all COVID symptoms were there.”

Bhagat told indica he feels lucky his father called the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger and the yoga center asked to perform the yoga process Kunjal Kriya.

Bhagat sharing further said he saw red and yellow toxins come out after kunjal. The fever started reducing. Usually, you perform Kunjwwal once a week, but somehow he tried it an alternate day.

“I know how to do that since I have had training at the yoga school,” he said. He started taking other herbal medicine, Tulsi and Guloi tablets, an herbal medicine he got through his friend.

“I started taking Tulsi and Guloi and stopped Tylenol completely,” Bhagat said and added the first positive signs were the fever and the congested chest felt lighter.  But it took two weeks for his sense of smell to come back.

“I am now in my original state but the weakness is there and still taking Tulsi and Guloi,” he said.

When asked if he enrolled to donate his blood plasma or was approached by someone, since he is capable and eligible, he said, “Yes, and was approached by Santhosh Shankarnarayan looking for convalescent plasma to donate to a doctor, but it’s hard luck. She passed away.”


For another COVID -19 survivor Sheetal, symptoms too started on March 14. She lives in West Windstar, New Jersey, and asked indica to use only her first name. She told indica by phone she might have been infected on her commute to New York for work. Sheetal, a marketing professional and works for an insurance company, said that at first she felt it was a cough and generally she doesn’t get sick.

She too developed a fever and had shortness of breath, but unlike Bhagat she had a cough.

“It did not seem like a normal cough, and I thought I should get tested,” said Sheetal.

Sheetal said before COVID she had an ear infection her lymph nodes were swollen, and was on medication. So, the doctor she saw did not ask for COVID testing, but Sheetal thought to get it checked and the test was positive.

Sharing about her symptoms, how she dealt with her teenage children and tried to help the community after recovering from COVID-19 she said, “I couldn’t talk, and it increased, and I am lucky I figured out earlier.”

When asked if it was like a flu, she said, “No, when I got the fever, at first thought it’s an allergy. I went to urgent care, and they test you for both. I was asked to stay home, and I was in my room and did not come out of my room. I have two teenagers, and I wanted to protect them as much as I could.”

Sheetal said every moment of her 14-day quarantine was nerve-racking and scary. Every new symptom seemed to be a sign she was getting worse as news stories said patients could get better and could again get worse.

“But the most scary part was you are not passing it on to your family or anybody,” she said.

When asked was it hard for the family to go through this and how she dealt with the situation she replies, “ I have teenagers, so they managed with cooking with their father. They learned how to cook.”

She said with a smile, “ It’s a positive … they learned how to do their stuff. Yes, they used to ask … but they got more creative and managed.”

She said soon she recovered and heard that the Red Cross was looking for patients who had recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood plasma.

People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus. This convalescent plasma is being evaluated as treatment for patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections, or those judged by a healthcare provider to be at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease, according to the Red Cross.

She registered with the Red Cross to help COVID-19 patients in need of convalescent plasma commonly named as blood plasma.

She also learned through the community, Santhosh Shankarnarayan was looking for donations of blood plasma from those recovered for a local patient, Dr. Priya Khanna, so Sheetal re-registered.

“I thought I would be helpful, “ Sheetal said. “In our township people are posting and people are looking for help and somebody posted Santosh’s number, saying we are looking COVID-19 and certain blood group and donate if you have recovered.”

Santosh asked her to re-register and although she was a match for Khanna, by the time Sheetal heard back the doctor had died, she said.

“Nobody got in touch with me from Red Cross and where to donate,” she said adding “It’s a long process. It’s a kind of annoying.”

She said the Red Cross wants your doctor to file the form confirming “you had COVID. They don’t believe you.”

Sheetal said further that there was another family based in Philadelphia in need of a plasma donor, but she could not get there because the blood bank did not call her.

“It’s very sad we tried to help, and we could not. If someone calls, I am more than willing to help,” Sheetal said. “I think it’s quite bureaucratic at this point with so much happening. And the process is not settled yet and so people are suffering.”


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