Surviving COVID-19

Tony Levitas recounts his days in the ICU

Levitas 1 Web
Photo credit: Renee O’Hearn
BACK AT IT: Tony Levitas.

On March 21, Graham Levitas and Steve Levitas, the son and brother of Atlanta singer/songwriter Tony Levitas, posted the following on his Facebook page:

“We appreciate so much everyone’s love and concern for Tony Levitas. Unfortunately, he is confirmed with COVID-19 and is literally fighting for his life. This will go on for several days, potentially without significant improvement. On a happy note, after a decline last night, he is somewhat better this morning, but by no means out of the woods. If and when he gets to that point, we will certainly let everyone know. Otherwise, you should assume that the battle continues and could go either way.

“He is in the hands of very talented medical professionals and is not in any pain or discomfort, but there is nothing that any of us can do at this point except hope for the best and pray if you are so inclined.

“And please follow all public health advice regarding extreme caution to prevent the further spread of this horrible disease. Please feel free to share this message with people who care about Tony. Thanks to everyone. Much love. Donate to those who cannot feed themselves (via the Atlanta Community Food Bank). Cherish your loved ones always, even extra now.”

Having tested positive for COVID-19, Levitas was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit of an Atlanta hospital as of that writing.

ARMS AKIMBO: From left, Andrew Cylar, Ted Selke (lower), Gary Brown, and Tony Levitas. PHOTO CREDIT: CLARK BROWN

Levitas, along with Andrew Cylar and Alan Gamble, co-founded the band Arms Akimbo in the early ’80s. Mainstays of Atlanta’s early alternative (“new wave”) scene, they garnered a respectable  following and critical praise for their live shows and recordings, including This Is Not the Late Show, a full-length album on 688 Records.

Although Levitas took time off from music to establish a psychology practice and start a family, in recent years he returned to songwriting and recording, forming a new band, Tony Levitas and the Levitations, with his son Graham and former Arms Akimbo bassist Bob Glick, posting performance videos on social media.

Levitas took time to share with Creative Loafing some of what it was like to contract the virus that has changed the way we live in the 21st century.

 “I am a COVID-19 survivor. I can say with 100 percent certainty it is no hoax. After a month-long stay at Northside Hospital in March and 17 days on a ventilator in a medically induced coma, today marks six weeks since I’ve been home. When I was first discharged, I could hardly walk, had lost over 20 pounds, and was quite weak.

“Now I can go for nice long walks, cook, play guitar, sing some (my voice is still not fully back yet because of the ventilator), and even hit some golf balls. Sleep was poor and anxiety had been high, like PTSD, coming so close to death. But those are better now.

“I’m starting back to work next week, part-time, doing tele sessions.

“As a psychologist, my mindset has always been pretty positive, but now my daily gratitude has reached new heights. They tell me I’m quite lucky to be alive and that I came real close to not making it. I even had a doctor stop by my ICU room the day I came off the ventilator, and he said, ‘So glad to see you made it, I didn’t expect you to.’

“My training as a psychologist also helped me get through the long hours of solitude alone in my hospital room, no visitors allowed because of the coronavirus lockdown. When you have that much time to just lie in bed and think, it’s easy for your thoughts to go dark. But I kept reeling them back in and focused on the three P’s: to stay positive, present, and patient.

“The outpouring of love and prayers has been incredibly moving and healing. People from all over the world, (and) from many different faiths, have prayed for me and sent me their love. I can’t begin to share what this has meant to me and how it’s helped me recover. My son Graham organized ‘Tunes for Tones,’ where a number of musicians play and record songs I had written, so very touching! They can be found on YouTube.

“We hear about the heroes during this virus. I can tell you from firsthand experience that the doctors, nurses, and medical staff put their lives on the line everyday and are under extreme stress. They deserve our appreciation and thanks. I will be forever grateful to them, and to my family, loved ones, and friends.

“As far as how I contracted the coronavirus, I saw a couple for therapy in my office on March 6. The husband contacted me a few days later and said he’d been diagnosed with the coronavirus. I got sick on March 11 with a high fever and cough. My girlfriend Renee saved my life by getting me to the E.R. when she made me go a few days later. After administering a CAT scan of my lungs, the doctor told me my lungs looked like they had shattered glass in them. That’s how they knew I had contracted the virus. I believe I was one of the earlier cases in Georgia. The treatment was somewhat experimental, with (massive doses of) various medications and my being flipped on my stomach to reduce the pressure on my lungs while I was on the ventilator.

“This helped save my life.

“One of my doctors, Howard Silverboard, a pulmonologist, was instrumental in saving me. He said he doesn’t really worry about contracting the virus. He wears protective gear and washes his hands often. I fear that people not taking the pandemic seriously could be at grave risk. My hope is that people will stay safe and practice social distancing and wear a mask when indoors near others.

“I’m determined to make something positive come from my illness, whether it’s being able to help others, maintaining daily gratitude, or writing new music. I started a new song while in the hospital and finished it when I got home. It’s called, ‘Not My Time To Die.’” —CL—