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Seattle firefighter now supports vaccination after being hospitalized for COVID

Lumen Field's mass vaccination site in Seattle. (MyNorthwest photo)

A couple of weeks ago, Seattle Fire Lieutenant Tony Micelli was the one dialing 911. He had tested positive for COVID-19 a few days earlier, was having a hard time breathing, and had to be hospitalized. Thankfully, he survived and is now sharing his story.

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Micelli told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula that he started feeling off on the Thursday before he was tested. It passed, but hit him again the next day, so he got tested for COVID on Friday.

“I think it’s important to tell you about this before the actual day I called 911 because it will paint a better picture for people to be able to understand how this thing, how it progressed in me,” he shared.

“I felt off on duty, but it was very short. When I say short I would say an hour or less, and it caught my attention, and I can’t describe it other than it was very off and it passed,” he said. “Why? How? No idea.”

He also noted that his ex-wife tested positive for COVID as well that week but she was vaccinated. While she had some symptoms, he explained, she was not hospitalized. Micelli, however, was not vaccinated.

Micelli went into quarantine on the weekend, but progressively declined from Monday onward.

“By Wednesday, it really, really, really hit me,” he said. “And by about six, I think it was, I called a firehouse that I know had medics in it, in the Seattle Fire Department, talked to a couple of the medics that I’ve known for … 22 years. And they said you sound sick, you need to get into the emergency department. And I said, well, I can’t drive. And they said, well, you got to call 911.”

“So I did that. And the Everett Fire Department showed,” he said. “And I was certainly sick.”

As far as why Micelli didn’t get vaccinated in the first place?

“I ask myself that a lot,” he said. “I was operating from a position where I think I allowed a lot of what I guess I would just best describe as a large background noise.”

He says he still doesn’t like the idea of a vaccine mandate, but he sees the mandate and the vaccination as two separate issues now.

“There is this notion of a mandate — people don’t want to be told what they’re going to do from an entity, like the government, and I can understand that,” Micelli said. “But I kind of see that as a separate issue. And I hope my message is focused on assisting others to maybe see that as a separate issue. It’s not that it’s unimportant. It’s very important. But … it was illustrated to me through personal experience that I fared the way that I did because I made a choice to not take the preventative measure that has demonstrated to really assist in keeping people out of the emergency department and hospital setting.”

“I lost sight of what the benefits are. … There are still very clear benefits to the vaccination,” he added.

Micelli says that he first knew it was bad when he had to call 911. But once he was in the emergency department, he got a chest X-ray, and says the physician came in with a packet of advanced directives.

“I looked at him and I said very clearly, I remember, ‘are we there yet?'” Micelli said. “He goes, ‘unfortunately, maybe. I need to know what you want to do.’ That’s a big deal. I have three daughters. I have responsibilities. I have an ex-wife. I mean, come on, I have life to live.”

“Advanced Directive at 46? Big deal. So that’s the psychological side of it,” he noted. “The physical side of it is you can’t breathe, you can’t breathe and it’s terrifying. I’ve seen it thousands of times on emergencies, people can’t breathe. I now know what that means.”

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Micelli says that he would have, and still does, describe himself as healthy. He’s 46 years old and has worked for the Seattle Fire Department for 22 years.

“But what I didn’t consider is all the other things that really define health,” he said.

“I had kind of a missed understanding of assessment of my health and I’m afraid some people were making, or are making, that same mistake because they can walk, because they don’t have pain, because they don’t take prescription medicines, suddenly they’re the definition of health,” he said.

COVID-19, Micelli says he learned, requires peak health “as best you can,” and the vaccination.

For others considering the vaccine, especially those in emergency services, Micelli suggests stepping away and separating the mandate from the vaccination itself.

“What I would ask people to do is perhaps pause — that’s the best way I can describe it. Remove yourself from the debate club and neighbors and friends, maybe step away for a couple of days, don’t think about it, and focus on prevention,” he said.

As a fire fighter, he explained that he’s used to evaluating the situation and identifying what needs to be done and what barriers of risk would prevent the work from happening. Then, they manage the risk.

“I never applied that same philosophy to my own health in this regard to coronavirus,” he said. “The vaccination is a tool. It is a viable tool, scientifically proven.”

“Are there unknown side effects of it in the future? That’s the bum thing about the future. Last time I checked, nobody has a crystal ball,” Micelli added. “But balancing the clear and present risk as we face it today, right now, that risk benefit is — the risk is definitely there for not having the tool.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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