Rep. Mark DeSaulnier reveals he was on a ventilator for four weeks

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, speaking publicly Monday evening for the first time since he was released from the hospital three weeks ago, recounted the details of the running accident that nearly killed him, revealed that he had been on a ventilator for four weeks and pledged to seek re-election in November.

His doctors have told him that he’s a “medical miracle” and that he should expect a full recovery, he said. “I don’t know what providence or good faith or technology or talented doctors led me to be able to continue to live, but at one point I was given a 10% chance of surviving. … I’m so grateful, and I can’t tell you what kind of impression this leaves on someone.”

DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who represents most of Contra Costa County, plans to resume work this week by participating in House committee hearings, which are being held virtually to help prevent more members of Congress from contracting the novel coronavirus.

DeSaulnier’s hospitalization in the middle of a national crisis was not related to coronavirus — he tested negative for COVID-19. And while he missed most of the political drama in Washington over the pandemic, he is clearly mindful of the global health threat and encourages people to maintain social distancing.

“When I do go out, I wear a mask, I keep 6 feet,” he said. “I really have to because of my susceptibility to another infection and how deadly that would be for me if I get COVID.”

Looking gaunt and speaking from his Washington, D.C., condominium in a weak and raspy voice, the result of a tracheotomy tube used during his hospitalization, DeSaulnier recounted in an 11½-minute Facebook video the ordeal that began March 4.

DeSaulnier, a former marathoner who lives with treatable chronic lymphocytic leukemia, had gone for an evening run to the Lincoln Memorial and back. On the return, about two blocks from his Capitol Hill home, he fell while going through an intersection.

Unfortunately, he said, he was carrying his cell phone in his right hand so he wasn’t able to break his fall with his hands. Instead, “I tucked my elbow as I flew through the air and landed on my ribs.” He walked the rest of the way home and saw a doctor the next morning.

He had hurt his spleen and broken multiple ribs. He was prescribed pain pills and told it would take time for the ribs to heal. But his condition worsened and he developed pneumonia, exacerbated by a weakened immune system resulting from his ongoing cancer treatment.

On March 13, he went to the medical center in the Capitol and was immediately put in an ambulance and taken to George Washington Medical Center, where he was placed in the intensive care unit for almost five weeks, four of which he was unconscious on a ventilator.

“On a key night, my doctors called my sons and told (them) that my organs were breaking down and that (there was) little they could do but they wanted to try a dated medical procedure to try to take pressure off my organs, particularly my kidney,” DeSaulnier said.

“They did it and the next day my son is expecting a call from the hospital saying that I had passed away in the night. Instead (he) got a phone call saying I was a little bit better.” The congressman eventually began to recover and was moved out of the intensive care unit.

He said he spent two weeks in rehab doing cognitive, occupational, physical and speech therapy “to find out what level of acuity I had, and what kind of time it would take to rebuild my health.”

DeSaulnier’s decision to seek re-election only affects his campaign plans, not the November ballot itself. Whatever his decision had been, his name would have appeared on the ballot because he won the March 3 open primary by garnering 71 percent of the vote.

Under California’s top-two open primary rules, his name and that of the second-place finisher, Republican Nisha Sharma, a Danville Realtor, must appear on the general election ballot.

In his comments Sunday, the congressman was clear that he plans to actively seek a fourth term.

“I love my work,” he said, adding that he hopes to see a new president elected at the same time so he can help work “to repair the damage of the last four years to this country.”

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Author: Daniel Borenstein