Now recovering from COVID-19, Olympian Alex Kopacz recalls ‘dark experience’ of saying goodbye at 31

In the darkest days of his battle with COVID-19, 31-year-old Canadian Olympian Alexander Kopacz says he drew up a will, gave his goodbyes to his family and friends, and contemplated whether he had lived a good and fulfilling life.

Kopacz, a bobsledding gold medallist at the 2018 Olympics, spoke to CBC News Network from his London, Ont., home on Tuesday about grappling with the real possibility he might die. 

“The worst part is the waiting,” he said in the video interview. “You have these flashes of happy times and there’s this sadness of, ‘Is this the end? Did I do enough? Could I have done more?’

“It was a very dark experience. I had to do an impromptu will of sorts with my parents. That was very hard,” he said.

“I was saying goodbye to a lot of people. I hope no one has to go through that, dying slowly.”

The athlete told CBC’s Heather Hiscox that he thinks he may have caught the virus while on a recent business trip to Calgary. 

“Within the first two days I thought something must be creeping in, then on the Wednesday I had a full-blown fever, and I’m sure I averaged around 41 degrees Celsius for six days straight and this overwhelming cough.”

Kopacz sent to hospital 

The two-person bobsled competitor and pilot Justin Kripps tied a German team for Olympic gold at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea.

Before entering hospital nearly a week ago, he was suffering from body chills, aches and coughing fits so bad that he would vomit or spit up blood, he said. Eventually, Kopacz became so sick, he had to be admitted and put on oxygen. 

“I did everything, every home remedy. It wasn’t until I was in the hospital that I had some serious improvements.”

Now at home, Kopacz is still dependent on oxygen to breathe and could be seen in his video interview wearing nose prongs with oxygen tubes.

He said his chest is tight and still hurts, and even doing simple tasks, such as getting a coffee, drops his oxygen saturation levels by as much as 20 per cent. 

The athlete said while he wouldn’t say he had recovered, he called his health “stable” because many of the other symptoms of the illness that afflicted him have subsided. 

He credits his recovery to staff at the London Health Sciences Centre, saying they helped him not just physically, but mentally as well. 

‘Frustrated’ by disinformation about virus

Because of his high profile, the athlete said his recovery has been the subject of controversy, and he’s received criticism on social media, for not receiving the right treatment and saying the pandemic and the coronavirus are real.  

Alex Kopacz, an Olympic gold medallist in two-man bobsled, is back home in London, Ont., after spending time in hospital for COVID-19. (Jennifer Hall/CBC News)

“I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is now coming across these,” Kopacz said of the social media posts with misinformation and disinformation about the virus and the vaccines.  

“Before it really affects you, you just brushed it off, you’d just ignore the crazy person on the street corner and that’s that. But now it’s like, ‘You believe this to the point where you’re going to tell people how correct that you think your view is and that this person shouldn’t take something as simple as a vaccine?’

“The ignorance is staggering.”

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