Sixteen weeks ago, the world changed for Frankie Marchiano.
The lifelong South Philadelphia resident was feeling fine on March 25. The next day was a different story, kicking off a lengthy battle with COVID-19, which left the 78-year-old fighting for his life on a respirator in Pennsylvania Hospital.
“One morning, I woke up and I wasn’t feeling good at all,” Marchiano recalled with a raspy voice. “My wife said I was on the couch talking to myself. Then they called the ambulance, and I was in the hospital and they said I had COVID, I thought in a week or two, I’d go home. No way.”
Marchiano doesn’t remember much aside from registering a 103-degree fever the day he left. He was medically induced into a coma and breathing through a respirator for the majority of his stay in the hospital before eventually being transferred to the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Center and Penn Hospice at 18th and Lombard streets.
His wife of 49 years, Elaine, waited helplessly at their home on South Mildred Street. One of their two sons, Carl, did the same just a couple of doors down on the same block.
With an underlying history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Marchiano would be fighting an uphill battle. His family didn’t know if they would see him again.
“Information was very forthcoming and very honest but they were limited in what they could provide,” Carl Marchiano said. “They didn’t want to give any false hope. They had a doctor call and explain how sick my father really was. He had a couple strikes against him with his age and the COPD. They said the situation was grave. The deck was stacked against him.”
The family clung to hope as they watched reports of the country being overtaken by the pandemic.
“You’re watching the news and seeing how New York where people are dying,” Carl said. “They were bringing in freezing trucks because of the overwhelming number of people dying. It hit me all at once, and I broke down. Every time the phone rang, it was scary. It was like a rollercoaster of emotions.”
Frankie Marchiano was determined to get home. And on July 17, he finally did.
It had been 113 days since Marchiano was admitted to the hospital as the first wave of the pandemic crept across Philadelphia. On Saturday, he was joined by his close family in the comfort of his home the day after he was released. Two of his four grandchildren, Natalia, 11, and Ivelisse, 10, greeted him with “Welcome Home Pop” masks and made signs out of poster board in celebration of his victory. He even earned a few nicknames during his fight.
“They call him tank, they called him a bull, they called him every name there is the way he fought,” Elaine said. “Everybody we spoke to was praying for him, and it worked.”
Frankie has traditionally been known to be clean-shaven, having managed two car washes before retiring two years ago. Since Frankie was unable to shave during his hospital stay, his son Carl joined him by growing a bushy beard. On Saturday, father helped son rid his face of the scratchy hairs in celebration with an electric razor.
“My whole life, my father has never had stubble,” Carl said. “Being he was sick, he left with some stubble. He was sedated for 10 weeks and his beard grew, so my promise to him was that I wouldn’t shave. Sixteen weeks later, I still hadn’t shaved. It was like Duck Dynasty over here.”
Frankie appreciated the gesture.
“I have two sons and they’re both great,” proud pop said. “When he did something like that, I couldn’t believe it.”
The Marchiano family praised the care they received, especially from Pennsylvania Hospital Dr. Michael Casey. They’re hoping Frankie’s health continues to improve as he rests at home, and Elaine hopes the two can celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary under normal circumstances in January.
Frankie is taking it day by day.
“I just sat down and relaxed,” he said with a laugh. “I was in the hospital for four months. It just feels good to be home.”