Correction appended

Lowan Stewart, an emergency medicine doctor who splits his time between Santa Fe and Norway, said he, his wife and their two children all had COVID-19.

Stewart said he was flat on his back for five days and coughing for another week. His family members experienced less severe symptoms, possibly due to their age and gender.

He said older people tend to suffer more than younger people and symptoms often are less severe for female patients. That proved true in his household. He had it the worst, and his 16-year-old daughter had the most mild symptoms.

They are all OK now, he said, and most others who contract the virus will be too.

“The reality is the vast majority of people who get it will be just fine,” Stewart said.

But he said it’s important for people to practice social distancing to protect others whose age or health conditions make them more vulnerable.

“The reason we need to take it seriously is for those people,” he said. “Most of what we are doing is not for you. It’s for our family members or other people in the community, to slow things down so when they require a ventilator there is one available.”

Stewart, 44, grew up in Santa Fe and normally spends one week a month working in the emergency room at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and Santa Fe Ketamine, a clinic he co-founded in 2016.

Then he flies to Norway — his wife’s home country — where he spends the rest of the month with her and their 21- and 16-year-old daughters in Oslo, were he works as a medical adviser and researcher.

Stewart said he contracted the virus on his most recent trip around the globe in late February — during which he made a pit stop in New York City, where the outbreak is more severe.

He said his initial symptoms came on very much like a common cold or flu.

“It started with a couple of days of mild headache,” he said. His wife, filmmaker Tonje Schei, was feeling a bit off too, but they still attended the premiere for iHuman, a film she’d been working on for the past five years.

“We went to the premiere with like 1,000 people,” he said. “I hugged probably 200 of them.”

At the after-party, he said, there was more hugging and dancing.

“Tons of people in Norway have it,” he said. “But I’m sure I gave coronavirus to 100 people that night.”

Thirty minutes after the premiere, he said, all the theaters in Norway closed because of the coronavirus threat.

A day or so later, Stewart said, the virus hit him hard.

He was bedridden for a week with severe body aches and back pain so bad he could barely make it to the bathroom on his own. He was was so feverish that he sweated through the sheets at night.

“Even the blankets were wet when I woke up in the morning,” he said.

After about a week, he began feeling better but was still coughing so badly it caused him to vomit.

“I felt terrible. It sucked,” he said.

He did what he normally does for a cold or flu, “took Tylenol, drank lots of fluids, drank tea and rested.”

He said that’s what most people should do.

There is no medicine for the virus, he said. The only thing hospitals can do is put a patient on oxygen or a ventilator. Most who test positive will be sent home to recover. There is no point in going to the doctor, he said, unless you can’t breathe.

“It’s super important that almost everybody stay at home and treat it like the flu,” he said. “Just stay hydrated and get rest, and your immune system will fight it off.”

Stewart added that older people or those with lung or heart disease need to be more careful. But he said even they don’t need to rush to the doctor unless they feel short of breath.

Stewart said he was already on the mend when he got tested. Because he’s a health care professional, he needed to be cleared to go back to work.

For now, he’s staying put because requirements that travelers quarantine for two weeks on each side of an international flight would keep him out of commission for a month if he were to travel.

“Looking back,” he said, “it’s just crazy how quickly everything changed. Three weeks ago, people were just doing what they normally did.”

Had he known then what he knows now, he said, he never would have gone to a packed theater, but he said most of his friends have gotten and recovered from the virus.

“In Norway, we think by summer 60 to 70 percent of the country will have had it,” he said, adding that, as in the United States, the true numbers in Norway are unknown because most people are not being tested.

Stewart said he felt relieved when he tested positive for the virus. “I was like, ‘Oh good, I got it. Now there is a high likelihood I’m immune for this year.’ ”

He said it appears unlikely those who contract the virus can become infected with the same strain again, and if they do, it will be less serious because they will have built up some immunity.

“I’m pretty optimistic about the whole thing,” he said.

Stewart acknowledged that shutting down the entire globe has been “a pretty drastic thing for everyone to go through.”

“But it works,” he said. “We can slow it down. If we overwhelm the system, more people will die. But if we can take care of the people that need to be taken care of, it will be OK for the vast majority of people. Then we will have to figure out how we can deal with it next year.”

This story has been amended to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated Lowan Stewart and Tonje Schei have a 21-year-old son. They have a 21-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old daughter in Oslo.

(14) comments

John Jenicek most people will survive a virus that has a roughly 2.5% fatality rate...not exactly insightful.

Marilyn Ting

I really appreciated this story , because it is so real and I think this man totally learned from his experience. May we also learn from reading it. Kudo's to Phaedra Hayward for her excellent reporting. this why we need to keep on supporting the New Mexican because of their very fine journalism and keeping it local!

Ted Nugent

Actually all this is just common sense. I mean NM has 1 death per day due COVID-19. That's negligible. Odds are hugely in favor of general public and will continue to be.

Ed Li

Pretty sad that I was already doing my part self-isolating since early to mid February when this doctor was out dancing and hugging people at a non-essential movie premiere event in late February. Alot of our healthcare professionals have been nothing but heros in all this but I have also witnessed a complete lack of judgement from others leading up to this virus from the same medical community.

Brenda Euwer

wow what an irresponsible doctor! out huggin people and They didnt feel well? Does not give me confidence to go the St. Vincents. and he is still somewhat downplaying it. Healthy people are dying from this, and healthy doctors and nurses. a healthy 30 year old gym teacher just died in NJ. sure maybe most wont, but dont downplay it.

Jose Garcia

Agree.. Don’t hug people if you felt you were ill even if you thought it was a cold or flu your a doctor you should know better. I know he was one of the first people to spread it because an article said first case was from a man flew from New York.. which at that point was a hotspot for the covid 19 and quarantines

Were taking place. He should of just quarantined himself but instead decided to foolishly infect others. Yes you might be healthy and got over it not everyone is like you.. He even said in this article maybe I infected like like a 100 people like joke. what a stupid person don’t care if you are a doctor your a dumb one. I am sure now he is staying home now and trying not to be reinfected while other nurses are out in the front lines..

John Gibson

I believe that people who are following the news understand that most people who are infected will not die. The current mortality rate in NM, like much of the US, is approximately 3%. That’s still a lot!

The problem is that people with positive tests who end up “just fine,” or who don’t even have symptoms, are infecting other people. And that raises an issue this article does not explicitly address, which is the infection rate in the US, and many cities/towns, has been increasing exponentially for several weeks. The trend last month was an order of magnitude increase in US cases every eight to nine days, i.e., ~1,000 cases on March 10, ~10,000 cases on March 19, ~100,000 cases on March 27.

If this trend continues, there will be approximately 1 million cases by the end of next week. Even at the current mortality rate, which is rising, that’s 30,000 deaths. If you extrapolate the trends out to the end of the month, what is currently a pretty horrible situation becomes truly catastrophic.

Gary Simon

Glad to hear this information because I too went through this with the same symptoms in the first week in March. I thought is was just a nasty flu virus because at the time the talk was the corona virus was just a Democratic hoax (not that I believed that). I'm recovered now, feel good and by the way I am 69 years old.

Stephen Fox

I think this is an excellent story, in a journalistic sense. In such situations, one tends to revolve around the gloom and doom, even bordering on and venturing into the purely paranoiac. Actually, I commend this writer, Phaedra Haywood, and the New Mexican, for covering this story. I have read very few about the process of survival, so yes, it is helpful and even a bit inspiring. I do also think this doctor should have been far more careful back in early February. I know my own first published article on this subject was when the physician in Wuhan who trumpeted the dangers but the Chinese officials ordered him to shut, and then he died. That was February 7, here:

Yvonne Babcock

Good story, people need to know that not everyone that contracts the virus will die.

We need more stories like this one!!

Jose Garcia

He and his wife felt sick in late feb at that point cornovirus was in the news in New York. He was the first ones to have it and yet he danced hugged people at the premiere. He spreaded it a doctor should know better not feeling well don’t be hugging people. He and his family are lucky but the people he gave it to problay weren’t as lucky.

Rachel Thompson

I’m not sure how useful it is to read about one individuals experience with the coronavirus, or one families experience. Mr. Stewart and his family are fortunate. We know from the data however that others will be less fortunate.

More helpful might be if you click some of the ideas that are in circulation about how, for example, to make facemasks without using a sewing machine. Here’s something I found on Facebook this morning:

On our neighborhood listserv, people are looking for a lot of information about how to help, and how to get help. One of the questions this morning was where to go to donate masks, if someone makes them. Maybe you could look into those kinds of practical resources. Thanks.

Ted Nugent

To the contrary, I think it's very useful information. Just goes to show the sky is not falling.

james george


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