By Brian Maass

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Jason Strong was young, healthy and worked out twice a day. The 39-year-old Aurora man is just now recovering from a 78 day battle with COVID-19 that left him near death.

“It doesn’t matter how big or strong or in shape you are, it gets you,” said Strong from his ICU bed at the Medical Center of Aurora. He entered the hospital Sept. 27 after contracting COVID-19 and was soon on a ventilator.

“He was very, very sick. Close to death,” said Dr. Chakraehar Kotaru, a pulmonologist and critical care doctor who cared for Strong. “It can happen to anybody… even a very healthy young man can get sick from COVID-19.”

Dr. Chakraehar Kotaru (left) and Jason Strong (right) credit: Deborah Armstead)

Within a week, Strong, who works as a manager for a waste company, was essentially in a coma with a ventilator helping him breathe. Near death, doctors placed him on an ECMO machine Oct. 5, which takes the patient’s blood, adds oxygen to it and then replaces it in the patient’s body. On Dec. 4, Strong remembers regaining consciousness and has been improving ever since.

He is still weak and does not have full use of his limbs, but Kotaru said he expects Strong to make a full recovery.

“He’s really lucky. He was in the right place with a team that is able to care for him,” said Kotaru.

Strong’s mother, Deborah Armstead, told CBS4, “Its just been amazing. We are overwhelmed with his progress.” She said there were times when she was certain her son was not going to survive. “The thought every day I could lose him, it’s the worst feeling in the world.”

She credits the hospital doctors, nurses and staff members with never giving up.

“I don’t think he would have survived anyplace else. These guys were phenomenal. They wouldn’t allow Jason to give up. They worked tirelessly. We owe them everything.”

Strong was unvaccinated when he contracted the virus in September.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s not that I was against it, just I was procrastinating. I was busy working, going to the gym.”

Now he is urging others to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“You don’t want to go through what I just went through,” he said. “There’s a lot of people on this floor who don’t go home.”

His mother and stepfather, who have both been vaccinated, echoed those sentiments.

“Get vaccinated,” said his mother. “You’re playing Russian roulette with your life.”

His stepfather, William Armstead, said “Count your blessings and get vaccinated.”

Dr. Gregory Hickey, a pulmonary and critical care physician, shared an urgent plea.

“If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, we beg you. We’re stretched to the limit here. It’s a safe, free and easy vaccination.”

Strong will celebrate his 40th birthday on Wednesday from his ICU room.

“Everything kind of hurts,” said Strong. “I’m on this side of the dirt.”

Brian Maass