COVID-19 survivor Trey Clegg: Lungs felt like they were full of water

Trey Clegg, director and founder of the Trey Clegg Singers, was diagnosed with COVID-19, but survived.
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Trey Clegg, director and founder of the Trey Clegg Singers, was diagnosed with COVID-19, but survived.

Trey Clegg’s lungs felt like two heavy sponges filled with water.

He couldn’t breathe.

Clegg had to get to a hospital. And fast.

The 50-year-old Spelman College music instructor didn’t want to wait for an ambulance.

He’d figured he’d be dead by the time it got to his downtown condo, then carried him 15 minutes to Piedmont Hospital.

“My breathing was so labored that I was afraid if I didn’t go (to the hospital), and went to sleep at home, I might not ever wake up,” said Clegg. “It was a frightening moment.”

Clegg was lucky.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults and people who have serious underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19.

The Fort Valley native is sharing his story because he hopes others will realize the importance of protecting themselves and others from the novel coronavirus, which is spreading throughout Georgia.

Diagnosed with COVID-19, he spent only one night in the hospital before returning home, where he has remained in self-quarantine for nearly two months.

Clegg, who has a compromised immune system, has left only to go to his doctor’s appointment and exercise, always in a mask, in an effort to rebuild his lung capacity.

Those outings, though, make him uncomfortable.

He was horrified when Gov. Brian Kemp began to reopen Georgia. He’s astonished to see people without masks or not practicing social distancing.

“I take those selfish actions very personally because I have to assume that everyone is an asymptomatic carrier of the virus,” said Clegg, who suspects he contracted the virus from someone who wasn’t showing any symptoms of the disease.

There’s no evidence that people who have had the virus can’t contract it again.

It was March 7 when Clegg started feeling ill.

The symptoms hit him all of a sudden.

There was an overwhelming sense of fatigue. He felt sick to the stomach. It was so bad, Clegg felt that if he didn’t lie down, he would pass out.

“I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck,” he said.

He had a busy weekend planned with rehearsals for the award-winning Trey Clegg Singers, a multicultural choir that performs everything from classical to spirituals and jazz, as it prepped for an upcoming concert; and as music director and organist with First Congregational Church of Atlanta.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” he said. “I’m usually a high-energy kind of person. I’m a fighter.”

Between services, Clegg was so tired he went off to the side and laid his head against a wall.

He asked one of the choir members whether this could possibly be COVID-19. The friend said no, because he didn’t have all of the symptoms.

He didn’t have a cough or high temperature. She asked him to hold his breath for 10 seconds.

By the next morning, though, he couldn’t hold his breath for two seconds.

He thought he might be exhausted from a hectic schedule.

A few days later, he headed to Asheville, North Carolina, for a quick trip with his boyfriend.

When he returned home, his temperature had spiked to 103. He was coughing. Was it a cold or the flu?

He went to the doctor that Thursday.

The doctor came in wearing a hazmat suit.

“I said, oh, he’s trying to tell me something,” he said. “I was scared to death.”

After several tests, he was sent home. But over the next few hours, his condition worsened.

He called a choir member who is also a physician. Get to the hospital now, he was told.

He drove himself to Piedmont.

“At that point, my vision went black,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe. I’m confident angels got me to the hospital.”

As soon as he walked in the doors, nurses rushed him to an examination room. He was admitted and given oxygen, which he said helped tremendously.

It turned out one of his nurses recognized him from one of the concerts a few months earlier.

“He said you blessed my life at your concert.” The nurse even remembered when Clegg turned to the audience and said they had to take care of each other.

“God’s hands were just all up in this.”

He got his test results the next day. They were positive.

When he looks back, he kicks himself for not figuring out what it was earlier. He worries that he may have infected others.

“By God’s grace and miracle, no one around me has gotten sick,” he said.

He has not seen his boyfriend, who also tested positive, but never got sick.

He had a brief scare recently when he developed abdominal pain.

Could it be a return of COVID-19?

“I just love people so much,” he said, sobbing. “You just never know what kind of energy you put out in the world, but it has come back to me tenfold.”

Since then, Clegg found out he lost three friends to the pandemic.

“This is real.”