CAMden, NJ – No one thought Frank Tallarico Jr. was going to live. Not his doctors, his nurses or his wife, a medical assistant who works part-time at the Camden, NJ, hospital, where he spent 49 days fighting Covid-19.
A 47-year-old police sergeant, he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus. Unconcerned about the merits of the vaccine, he thought he was young and fit enough to handle any disease caused by the virus.
He was wrong.
“If this is an eye-opener for anyone – so be it,” Sergeant Tallarico said recently at his home in Pensauken, NJ, about five miles northeast of Camden. He plans to receive the vaccine as soon as doctors give him his final medical clearance at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, credited with saving his life.
“If I had been vaccinated,” he said, “I think I wouldn’t have been as sick as I did.”
Although police work inherently carries the potential for violent or fatal encounters, COVID-19 has been the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers in the United States for the past two years.
When COVID vaccines were first introduced in December 2020, law enforcement officers – frontline workers who, like doctors and nurses, need to interact closely with people in distress – were required to take those shots. Priority was given to those that have since been proven to reduce the risk of serious disease. and death.
But the following year, as some police unions tried to block the vaccine mandate, at least 301 police, sheriffs and corrections officers died of complications from COVID-19, according to National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial, a non-profit. Beneficiary who line-of-duty death. Since January, COVID has continued to outpace other top causes of line-of-duty deaths.
“It’s not a bit above firearm fatalities and traffic fatalities,” said Troy Anderson, a retired sergeant with the Connecticut State Police who is now director of safety and welfare for the memorial. “It’s head and shoulders up.”
“It’s unimaginable that we’re still in this place,” he said.
Sergeant Tallarico’s ordeal began on Christmas Eve, as Omicron infections swelled across the country, hospitals were flooded and staffing levels nearly swelled past breaking points.
Before it ended, the patrol officer, less than a year before his retirement after 24 years of service, was hospitalized twice.
After being taken to the hospital a second time, a foot-long blood clot was removed from his lung, a procedure that prevented certain death but almost stopped his heartbeat. He was put on advanced life-support while on the operating table. For two days, a machine worked for his heart and lungs.
It didn’t take long for his kidney to fail due to the need for dialysis.
One of the many difficult moments was the day his daughter, a 19-year-old college freshman, visited him, which they both feared might be the final goodbye. Conscious but Sergeant Tallarico attached to the ventilator was unable to speak.
“He would try and mouth-to-mouth around the breathing tube,” said Jackie Whitby, a cardiac care nurse who was also in the room. “He had tears in his eyes. He had tears in his eyes.”
Repeating the story more than two months later, Sergeant Tallarico started crying again.
He said that of the 14 officers in his police department in Merchantville, NJ, about half have been vaccinated. The station in-charge did not call.
Sergeant Tallarico said he had tried to persuade reluctant colleagues to get vaccinated.
“I say, ‘Just look at me and see what I was doing,'” he said.
Many of the nation’s largest police departments, including Los Angeles, New York and Newark, require staff to be vaccinated. Corrections officers in New Jersey have also been ordered to run the risk of being shot or fired.
Nine police personnel have died of Kovid-19 in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city. But there have been no Covid deaths since the city’s vaccination mandate was implemented in September following an unsuccessful legal challenge by police and fire unions.
Brian O’Hara, Newark’s director of public safety, said roughly 96 percent of Newark public safety officials have had at least two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine or one shot from Johnson & Johnson.
Richard T., the last member of Newark’s Department of Public Safety to die of Covid. McKnight, a 20-year-old employee who processed detainees. He was not vaccinated, said Mr O’Hara, who spoke at the funeral.
Days after Mr. McKnight’s death in August, his wife, who was ill with COVID, also died, Mr. O’Hara said.
“His 9-year-old daughter has no parents,” he said.
On the day Sergeant Tallarico was first admitted, the 340-bed hospital, Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes, was treating 26 patients for COVID. Within two weeks, 81 patients were hospitalized with the virus.
“January was the worst month of my career,” said Dr Vivek Salam, a cardiologist who has worked at Our Lady of Lourdes for 14 years.
As Sergeant Tallarico slowly began to recover, against the odds, staff members began to rally around him, referring to him as his “miracle patient.”
“‘You get well, I’m going to take you to dinner,'” Dr. Salum told Sergeant Tallarico as he came off the ventilator a second time.
Sean McCullough, a nurse, devised a system using a letter board that enabled Sergeant Tallarico to communicate while intubated. Wendy Hardesty, a physical therapist, insisted that she be strong enough to climb three stairs to her home before she was discharged for the second time on February 18.
“The mental trauma these nurses have suffered and what they have seen – the amount of death and suffering. This is what everyone needed,” Dr. Salum said. “Everyone needed this victory.”
After being hospitalized with pneumonia for three weeks at Christmastime, Sergeant Tallarico was discharged, but He was so weak that his wife, Christine Lynch, put folding chairs throughout their house—”so that he could make it to a chair in the living room and relax before going to the bathroom.”
At 5 a.m., when she had difficulty breathing, she called the ambulance again.
He was re-admitted with a leg-long blood clot in his lung. Known as pulmonary embolism, it has become a common side effect of COVID-19 for hospitalized patients.
The device used to remove it has been available since 2018, said Dr. Joseph Brody, who said the new technology has enabled him to keep the embolism largely intact.
Had that not been possible, Dr. Brody said, “he probably wouldn’t have survived.”
Sergeant Tallarico and his second wife, Ms Lynch, were married less than a year after they were told in late December that a colleague had exposed them to the virus. Soon, both the newlyweds were ill.
Ms Lynch, a medical assistant who was vaccinated, said she initially shared her husband’s reluctance to get the shot. Sergeant Tallarico said he believed the vaccine had been approved, and questioned its safety.
Looking back, he said he wants 33-year-old Ms Lynch to “kick her butt” for vaccinations. Had he grown up with health risk factors other than high blood pressure, he said he would.
Before becoming ill, Sergeant Tallarico said he worked regularly, and for three years participated in the Police Unity Tour, a three-day bicycle ride in Washington held each May to honor fallen officers. Because their names are added to a monument in the capital. ,
“I’ve been healthy all my life,” he said. “I guess I just had this mindset that if I get it, I’ll be one of the ones who light it up. And it certainly wasn’t.”
Tom Buckley, a senior hospital vice president, estimated the billable cost of treating a sick person as Sergeant Tallarico would be about $400,000 to $500,000; Sergeant Tallarico said he had not received a final bill from his insurance company for the cost of his care.
About three weeks after being released from the hospital, Sergeant Tallarico returned with bagels, pizza, and a promise to staff members who struggled to keep him alive. “He told us he would get vaccinated,” said Corinne Newman, a nursing director.
The gesture brought Ms Whitby, who had the day off but was contacted via FaceTime, to tears.
“He being a cop and I being a nurse – we essentially put our lives on the line and put other people first,” she said.
“He says, ‘You know what? I’m going to get the vaccine as soon as possible.’
“I think he’s supporting us.”