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Faces of COVID: After overcoming many health hurdles, Victor Young has crossed the finish line

Young overcame a terminal cancer diagnosis and open-heart surgery before contracting COVID-19 and beating that, too.

CLEVELAND — Competition. It's been part of the fabric of Victor Young’s life since he was high school.

Track was his sport, and he was not only fast -- he was dedicated and passionate. No surprise, he went on to be a star on the University of Pennsylvania's track team.

"I just love the sport," Young said.

Victor carried that love through a life that would ultimately present many hurdles. At just 29 years old, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 12 months to live. But then, he was told he’d be a good candidate for a clinical trial.

"I survived it," he recalled. "It was brutal. It was 18 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by 16 consecutive days of radiation on my shoulder."

After that, he went into remission.

"I’m a terminal cancer survivor," he said, "so I was pretty beat up by that, but I did get through it and I got back to my sports."

Credit: Victor Young
Victor Young maintained his love of sports through biking.

Victor would bike and run for miles, but then, decades later, came another hurdle – he was retaining fluid. He was in his 60s when a cardiologist uncovered that Victor was born with a congenital heart defect, a valve issue. His doctors knew he needed open-heart surgery, and he was referred to the Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Eric Roselli.

Young ultimately underwent the surgery, and it was a success.

"It went extremely well," he aid. "It’s like getting hit by a bus, but I mean, what do you expect, they crack open your chest."

Months of healing his heart ensued, but then the pandemic did, too. A virus that is known to attack the heart – ended up attacking him. He was one of the first in Ohio to contract COVID-19.

At that time, the Clinic had just one ICU fully equipped solely for COVID patients. Victor was in bad shape - the maximum amount of oxygen wasn’t enough for him, according to Dr. Debasis Sahoo.

"We had to basically intubate him and put a tube in his mouth and put him into a coma," he said.

Victor was in that coma for nine days, but he ended up being the very first coronavirus patient at the Cleveland Clinic to be taken off a ventilator.

Credit: Victor Young
Victor Young was treated at the Cleveland Clinic.

"The thing that strikes you about him was his motivation to get better," Sahoo recalled about Young.

With rehab, discipline and small strides forwardm Victor wholeheartedly believes his open-heart surgery by Roselli saved him from COVID.

"If his heart was in the shape it was before we operated on him I don’t know that he would have had that same outcome," Roselli said.

And today, Victor is completely off oxygen, and says he can’t wait to get outside and exercise.

"If the weather wasn’t like it is now, I could do 20 miles," he said with a smile. "My lungs at this point are better than before I had COVID."

His heart is beating perfectly, too. It wasn’t a sprint to get here, but a long distance run. He crossed the finish line, or let’s be honest, several of them.

Credit: Victor Young
Victor Young is pictured with his family.