Olympia Fields police detective details harrowing experience being hospitalized for COVID-19

EVANSTON (WLS) -- Mark Akiyama is a burly 47-year-old Olympia Fields detective who has seen much many of us don't but nothing, he says, prepared him to fight COVID-19.

"I have trouble sleeping I wake up I start crying thinking about the whole situation," Akiyama said.

He begrudgingly boarded an ambulance for Silver Cross Hospital March 26. Four days after coming down with a fever from who knows where, he was tested for the disease at a pop up testing site in Joliet.

Akiyama is a Detective Corporal of Investigations with the Olympia Fields Police Department.

"I know that you when you are on a ventilator there's a good chance that you are not coming back and my wife she made the decision," Akiyama said. "She's like 'look I love you to death' she says 'either you are going to die or you go on this ventilator, and you are strong and you will make it through, I know you will.'"

Six days later, Akiyama said he began to pull through.

"I started to wake up, and I was begging them to take me off it I was begging them and if they would have, I would have died," he said.

He eventually got off the ventilator after 17 days.
"That was probably the most happiest I've ever been, because I knew that I had beat this and God had brought me through," Akiyama said. "I've seen death, and I stared it in the eyes and it is not a comfortable feeling it truly isn't."

"I tried to close my eyes and I just saw people just dying," Akiyama said. "My mind was playing tricks on me I truly believe. As soon as I close my eyes always people and they were crumbling in front of me It was like it was unreal, you're there alone fighting for your life by yourself."

"I thought I was going to die, I truly believe that. If it wasn't for god, and all the prayer warriors out there that I have a truly don't think I would be here today, they give their blessings and stuff it is just amazing," he said.

Akiyama remains quarantined at home. He said he's afraid to get outside. A man who didn't take a sick day in the last decade has lost 30 pounds and worries about future lung function.

He said the fight back for his mental health is his north star now as well as expressing gratitude for his wife, his rock, and his five kids.

WATCH: Chicago area COVID-19 survivors share their stories
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All three of these men are thankful to join the more than 73,000 across the United States who have recovered from coronavirus.

Beating the virus was only one part of the journey for these survivors. All of them now say the real victory will be when this virus is cured and they can physically shake the hands of all the staff who helped them recover.

Foti Balaskas, a Northbrook father of three, is now home and healthy after surviving a long battle against COVID-19.

"I went through a lot," Balaskas said. "I was in the hospital for 25 days. I was on a ventilator for 10 days. I'm lucky I got a second chance."

Paul Richards, a 69-year-old retired Chicago firefighter and Vietnam veteran, walked out of Advocate Trinity Hospital last week as a COVID-19 survivor.

"I did ask God to take care of me and he took over," Richards said.

All three men are thankful to join the more than 73,000 across the United States who have recovered from the virus. All said they were fueled by their faith, coupled with an appreciation for the hospital staff that treated them for weeks.

Richards said pandemic front liners espouse his old Marine Corp motto: Semper Fi... Always faithful.

"You better believe you've got the best people on the frontlines," Richards said. "[They are] planning to do all they can all they can to bring you back, like they did me."

Covered in protective equipment, their health heroes still remain faceless to these survivors.

"I learned their voices," Balaskas said. "Their eyes, the gear. And that's how I was able to tell them apart. One day I hope I can go back and shake their hands and give them a big hug, and tell them how much grateful I am."

A couple of the men who spoke with ABC7 said they are just counting down the days where they can donate their blood in hopes to save others. Their message to those still battling this virus is: stay strong, have faith.
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