HOUSTON - Colby Vondenstein never thought his bout with COVID-19 would bring him near death and lead to a double-lung and kidney transplant.
The 24-year-old said he was perfectly healthy and working in construction when he started feeling sick after a holiday gathering with his family in late December 2020.
"I started feeling bad," he told FOX Television Stations Saturday from his hospital bed at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. "I took some medicine. Thought it was like a common cold."
However, his symptoms worsened and he tested positive for COVID-19. He then was admitted into a local hospital. His wife and one of their three children tested positive as well, but they had minor symptoms.
"I took precautions. I always washed my hands, trying not to get it," he continued.
During his hospital stint, Colby’s health continued to fail and he was diagnosed with COVID-19-related pneumonia. He had trouble breathing, had to be placed on a ventilator and undergo dialysis. He also was placed on an ECMO machine, a life support machine to help support his lungs and heart.
"Pretty unbearable," his wife, Tori, said while sitting next to her husband at the hospital. "It was tough to watch my best friend, the love of my life, fighting for his life."
In late February, Colby received a double-lung and kidney transplant. He continues to recover and improve at the hospital.
"He would not have survived if we hadn’t transplanted him," his pulmonologist, Dr. Howard Huang, told FOX Television Stations. "There really was no other way out."
"I have not seen somebody so young that has become so ill," he continued.
Huang said Colby’s case was very puzzling given that he was otherwise a healthy, young adult with no indication that he would suffer severely from COVID-19. He and his team couldn’t find any existing health factors that contributed to Colby’s decline in health.
"This is a very rare event. Extremely rare," Huang added, pointing out that organ transplants are not a common treatment for a COVID-19 diagnosis. He said there are fewer than 100 cases of COVID-19 patients receiving transplants to survive.
The couple, who lives in Crosby, Texas, hopes to go home in two weeks and reunite with their three children, who have been unable to see their father since he was admitted into the hospital due to COVID-19 restrictions.
In the meantime, the couple wants to share Colby’s story to warn others that COVID-19 can severely affect a young, healthy person.
"I just want to let the younger people know that COVID is very real," Tori said.
"Just take it seriously because I didn’t think this was going to happen to me," Colby added. "It’s just crazy how badly it damaged my lungs."
Colby said he doesn’t plan to return to construction because of the health risks associated with having an organ transplant. He said he wants to go to school and pursue a different career.
They have launched a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses.
Both the couple and Huang urge Americans to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Saturday that nearly 60 million Americans have been vaccinated, representing 18% of the total U.S. population.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.