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Special Olympian gets a hero’s welcome after spending 136 days in the hospital due to COVID-19

As a Special Olympics gold medalist in swimming, Colby Douglas is used to hearing crowds cheer for his name during sports events. Recently, Colby heard people cheering for him once again, but it was for a different win – his successful recovery from the coronavirus.

The 21-year-old Pequannock, New Jersey, native, who was born with Down syndrome, came home to a hero’s welcome last week after spending 136 days in two different hospitals because of COVID-19.

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Colby had a homecoming day fit for a king. On the day of his release from the Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, Morris County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sergeant David Kenny presented him with a proclamation signed by Sheriff James M. Gannon recognizing his courage.

Then, other Morris County officers took him and his mother safely back home in a limousine. As they were nearing his residence, friends and neighbors cheered and lined Newark-Pompton Turnpike to welcome him.

He really appreciated the welcome, as he told Savannah Guthrie of TODAY that “the fans” were the best part about the parade.

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Colby’s symptoms began when he woke up one morning feeling sick. He then asked his parents to take him to the hospital, and by the time they got there, doctors said he already had pneumonia. Gayle Douglas, his mom, said they were transferred to another hospital where he was intubated on April 2 and diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to his sister, Courtney, Colby was “on a vent asleep for 60 days.”

“And then after the 60 days, they decided to put the trache in, and that’s when he started to become a bit more conscious,” she said.

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The Special Olympian gold medalist also had to undergo physical therapy to regain strength in his muscles because he had been lying in bed for so long.

Colby’s situation even caught the attention of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who wished him well through a Facebook post in June.

“Meet 21-year-old Colby Douglas – an extraordinary young man and a Special Olympian. His inner strength was pushed to its limits as he fought a nearly 11-week battle with #COVID19. After 75 days of being hospitalized, Colby began his rehab. We’re rooting for his full recovery!” the governor wrote.

Because Colby has special needs, the hospital allowed Gayle to stay in the room with him, but only if she didn’t leave.

“I kneeled in the backyard and I prayed to God that Colby had so many people believing in him that he needed to heal him,” she said.

Gayle said “just needed to be there” to take care of her son. She lost 20 pounds in the process, pacing 5 miles a day in Colby’s hospital room.

“Not the way you want to lose weight, at all, but I just needed to be with him all the time, just to make sure he was OK,” she said.

Her husband, George Douglas, said Gayle deserves to be celebrated for her role in ensuring that their child receives the best care possible.

“You’ve interviewed presidents and actors and everybody else. Well, here’s another rock star that you can be interviewing here, is Gayle. Because she’s just phenomenal,” he said.

Colby has always been a fighter. He was born prematurely and stayed in the NICU for a month, so his family believed that he was going to make it.

And they were right. Colby eventually woke up and returned home after 136 days in the hospital.

His family couldn’t be happier now that the gold medalist Olympian is back home with them.

“Just a blessing beyond blessings. It’s just unbelievable,” George said. “And then the crowning jewel is he’s OK and he’s home. And that’s what we were all praying for all this time, you know? How blessed we are.”

Happy homecoming, Colby!

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