He’s been dubbed ‘the miracle man’ for defying the odds and coming out of a 37-day coma after contracting COVID-19 on board the Ruby Princess cruise ship.
But for Paul Faraguna and his family another miracle is how well he has recovered in such a short space of time with all his test results to date showing no long-term effects.
Sure he won’t be hiking up Mt Lofty like he did nearly every week before the ill-fated cruise, well not for a little while, but he is gradually increasing his walks up and down the steep road near his home in the Adelaide foothills.
Paul, who turned 69 in August, remembers nothing from the time he was admitted to hospital to when he woke up. However, he knows how stressful it was for his family, who couldn’t even visit him during this time, and how much they relied on prayer to get them through.
His wife Robyn was raised an Anglican but described herself as a non-believer and someone who “needed proof”.
“I was desperate when Paul was sick,” she said, holding back the tears.
“I ended up praying every night…I said to God if you get Paul through this I will go to Mass with him.”
True to her word, Robyn accompanied Paul when he went back to St Joseph’s Tranmere for the first time last month.
The congregation, led by Fr Roy Elavumkal, broke out in applause for Paul, who is a special Eucharistic minister and helps clean the brass at church.
“It was really wonderful,” he said. “Fr Roy was very good when I was sick, he called all the time to see how I was doing.”
Cathedral Administrator Fr Anthoni Adimai also offered Mass for him after his children, Adam and Stacey, reached out to the Archdiocese, and later visited him.
Paul said he had been surprised to learn that so many people had been praying for him when he regained consciousness, not realising how bad he had been.
“It really was a hopeless situation,” he said.
“I had the easy job, the family had a lot of stress.”
But Paul admitted that he “did a fair bit of praying himself” when he was on dialysis after the virus caused his kidneys to fail.
“I was a bit depressed, I was feeling cold and miserable and for about six hours I was shivering,” he said.
“I thought if I am like this for the rest of my life what a horrible way to live.
“I prayed to Jesus and especially to the Virgin Mary and asked her to help me.
“I couldn’t believe it the next day when the doctor checked my levels on the dialysis machine and said ‘I’m taking you off – for good’.
“Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it, my prayers had been answered.”
Born in northern Italy, Paul came to Australia as a three year old with his family who settled in Findon and worshipped at Our Lady of the Manger. His father was a mariner before coming to Australia and both his parents had a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary.
Referring to a visit to Lourdes in France about four years ago, Paul said he was “always a man of faith” but back then he “didn’t really appreciate the Virgin Mary” as much as he should have.
“I always prayed to Jesus but at my sickest I did call upon the Virgin Mary and I specifically said ‘please I don’t want to be on dialysis’,” he said.
“I really felt a strong faith and I’ve prayed to the Virgin Mary ever since, just asking her to intervene on my behalf, and for the family.”
Paul has asked himself if it was “the doctors who saved me, or is it my faith, or is it my fitness beforehand?”
“I think it was all three but the way I see it now is that the doctors did a brilliant job and they went as far as they could go, and they couldn’t do anymore,” he said.
“I stood on the edge of life and death and I think God tipped the scales in my favour.”
Paul is acutely aware that four other COVID-19 patients in the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH)were not as fortunate as him and expressed his sympathy to their families.
“The whole experience has made me sensitive to the suffering of others…those couples were just like us, they just thought they were going on a nice cruise,” he said.
“If I see or hear of any breaches of the virus restrictions it really affects me personally, it saddens me when people don’t take it seriously enough.
“I would encourage everyone to stay safe…when you’ve been sick like me you realise that some people just don’t appreciate how serious it is.
“I used to be a bit like that, I thought I was fit and never did anything wrong so it wouldn’t happen to me but now that I’ve had an almost near death experience I’m alarmed that some people think they are bullet proof.”
For the retired railway technical officer who describes himself as “very media shy”, the hype around his departure from the RAH was overwhelming.
“I really didn’t want to face the cameras but the hospital said it would be good for the medical staff’s morale so I agreed,” he said.
“I could hardly walk but the physio girls said they’d help me…they were fantastic.”
Paul and Robyn can’t speak highly enough of all the staff at the RAH and at Modbury Hospital where he spent five days in rehabilitation before going home.
“I can’t believe how he progressed so quickly from when he left the ICU, he couldn’t walk, he could barely move his hands, but they got him standing and within a couple of weeks he was walking,” said Robyn.
Paul and Robyn are both taking part in a study by the RAH aimed at understanding more about COVID-19, including why some people are affected more than others. Robyn contracted COVID-19 but only had relatively mild symptoms.
As Paul looked out at the massive rocks he was lifting to make steps in their terraced backyard before he became ill, he said he was hoping to complete the job soon. “With some help,” stressed Robyn.
The Ruby Princess trip to New Zealand was their fifth cruise and while they had a European river cruise booked for May this year which was cancelled, the couple is now looking to pursue their love of travelling within Australia.
The Faragunas have joined 800 passengers in a class action to sue Princess Cruises and say if there was wrong doing by the cruise line, they need to be held accountable.
“We knew that COVID was around but we thought they must have it under control…the class action might tell us why they allowed us to board, why didn’t they cancel it,” Paul said.Jump to next article