Man with coronavirus who works in LA says drug used to treat malaria 'saved my life'

LOS ANGELES -- Rio Giardinieri, 52, vice-president of a company that manufactures cooking equipment at high-end restaurants in Los Angeles and around the world, thinks he contracted COVID-19 at a conference in New York. He had a fever for five days, horrendous back pain, headache, cough, and tiredness. He was sleeping about 15 hours a day, when he’s used to getting five hours a night.

He said his doctors did not want to see him, so he drove to Joe DiMaggio Hospital in South Florida, near his home, and nearly passed out waiting to get tested.

Doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia and coronavirus. They put him on oxygen in the ICU, but he said he was still unable to breathe. After more than a week, he said doctors told him there was really nothing more they could do. On Friday evening, March 20, he said goodbye to his wife and three children.

“I was at the point where I was barely able to speak, and breathing was very challenging," he said. "I really thought my end was there. I had been through nine days of solid pain and for me, the end was there, so I made some calls to say, in my own way, goodbye to my friends and family.”

A dear friend immediately sent him a recent article about hydroxychloroquine, an old anti-malaria medicine proven successful to treat COVID-19 patients overseas, and insisted he take the drug.

Giardinieri reached out to an infectious disease doctor.

“He gave me all the reasons why I would probably not want to try it because there are no trials," said Giardinieri. "There’s no testing. It was not something that was approved, and I said, 'Look, I don’t know if I’m going to make it until the morning,' because at that point, I really thought I was coming to the end because I couldn’t breathe anymore. He agreed, and authorized the use of it, and 30 minutes later, the nurse gave it to me."

Giardinieri described what happened next. An hour after an IV with the medicine, he said his heart felt like it was beating out of his chest.

“They had to come in, and get me calmed down, and take care of me," said Giardinieri. "I had another episode about two hours later, where I just got to the point where I couldn’t breathe, and my heart was pounding again, so they gave me some Benadryl through the system, and something else. I’m not sure what it was. It allowed me to go to sleep, and when I woke up at exactly 4:45 in the morning, I woke up like nothing ever happened.”

Miraculously, he’s since had no fever or pain, feels fine, and he’s been able to breathe again.

Giardinieri said doctors believe those episodes were not a reaction to the medicine, but the virus progressing in his body.

“To me, there was no doubt in mind that I wouldn’t make it until morning,” said Giardinieri. “So, to me, the drug saved my life.”

On FOX 11’s “The Issue Is,” Oncologist Dr. Paul Song said while using hydroxycloroquine to treat COVID-19 is still preliminary, it’s extremely compelling and hopeful with such an infectious virus.

“A lot of people are walking around shedding viruses unknowingly, and if you can’t eliminate this from the body in such a short period of time, then the potential to infect others is greatly diminished,” said Dr. Song.

Giardinieri said, for him, it was life-saving.

“I just want everyone to know there’s an option," said Giardinieri. "You don’t have to just sit there and hydrate. There’s a medicine that’s working.”

He had three doses of the medicine Saturday. Doctors now have to wait to make sure coronavirus is knocked out of his system so he doesn’t infect anyone else. He’s hoping to go home to his family in about five days.