By Dillon Thomas

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – For the first time since Weld County recently ran out of ICU beds due to a spike of COVID-19 cases, one of the county’s sickest patients is sharing his story from his ICU bed. Earl Henry, a retired construction worker from Greeley, said his thoughts on the severity of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of the vaccine drastically changed after he contracted the virus.

Now, hooked to machines that help keep him alive in the ICU, Henry wanted to share his story with CBS4’s Dillon Thomas in hope of encouraging other self-proclaimed skeptics to reconsider their stance.

Earl Henry (credit: CBS)

“I, from the start, was a doubter. I was the head of the doubters. I doubted the vaccines. I doubted everything the media was saying. I thought it was just a circus,” Henry said. “Now I am standing in the back of the line with my hat in my hand. I have to admit, I was wrong. I was 100% wrong.”

Hospitalized in the ICU at UCHealth Greeley Hospital, Henry said he regretted not taking the pandemic more seriously. Thanks to the hardworking staff at UCHealth he was able to recover enough to share his story of survival.

“It is one heck of a big deal. It is a whole lot bigger than I thought,” Henry said. “You’ve heard the old saying of the elephant sitting on your chest? Well, I had a whole pack of them.”

Henry said he started feeling sick last month and assumed it was simply just a seasonal cold or the flu. However, as symptoms increased in severity he ultimately decided to be evaluated at the hospital.

Thanks to the quick actions of UCHealth’s staff, Henry was stabilized in the ICU. He was able to avoid being placed on a ventilator. However, that does not mean his battle with the virus has been easy.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” Henry said. “At one point in time I could’ve cared less if I woke up or stayed asleep.”

(credit: CBS)

During his time working in construction, Henry was buried alive multiple times. Dirt walls collapsed while he was in them, and much like a boa constrictor, the dirt gained a tighter grip on him every time he exhaled. Henry said the dirt would slowly squeeze the air out of him as time passed.

Much like that experience, Henry said COVID-19 seemed to do the same as he laid in his ICU bed gasping for air. Henry said he was taking deep breaths, however, it felt like there was no oxygen.

“That’s what it felt like. It literally felt like I was being suffocated,” Henry said.

A self-proclaimed now-former skeptic, Henry said he regrets not being vaccinated as soon as he qualified.

“After having it. If I knew what I know now, I would have changed a whole lot of things,” Henry said. “Go get the shot. A needle poke in the dang arm beats the heck out of 12 days in the ICU and wondering if you are going to make it to see the next morning,”

Henry said, if he would have been vaccinated, he believes he could have avoided the entire near-death experience he had. He also said he is open to getting all three doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Henry thanked his doctors and nurses for giving him another chance at life, and to once again return to his favorite hobby.

“I feel 110% better than I did when this started. Way better,” Henry said. “I’d like to go fishing, I feel really good.”

Dillon Thomas