'I went to the gates of hell': COVID-19 victim given 1% chance at life tells emotional survival story

ByDion Lim and Alix Martichoux KGO logo
Friday, January 1, 2021
'Gates of hell': CA man given 1% chance shares survival story
Mike Arevalo is still dealing with lingering effects of his fight with the coronavirus, but he made it through 2020 to share his story.

BRENTWOOD, Calif. (KGO) -- As we wrap up 2020, ABC7 is taking a moment to reflect on the stories we've told and the people we've met throughout the year. To read all 13 incredible stories, check out our interactive project here.

Ten weeks in the hospital. Four weeks in a coma. Less than a 1% shot of surviving.

One of the first in the Bay Area to face the full wrath of the coronavirus.

But numbers and statistics don't even begin to do justice to the story of Mike Arevalo's survival.

FACING 2020: The people who defined the Bay Area this year

"I went to the gates of hell and came back," he told us when he finally got out of the hospital in May.

He still doesn't know exactly where he got coronavirus in March, but he assumes he contracted it on the job as a California Lottery representative. This was before we knew how to really protect ourselves from the virus: back then, there was no masking, distancing or temperature checks.

Before he knew it, the man who puts family before everything else in life unwittingly transmitted a deadly virus to his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandson. They all live in the same house, and the virus tore through them one-by-one.

Of the entire family, Arevalo was undoubtedly hit hardest. When he was in the hospital, he says doctors tried "everything under the sun, the kitchen sink and hydroxychloroquine" to keep him alive. Nine months later, he's what some call a "long-hauler," still feeling the wear and tear from his fight with COVID-19.

"I do have some cognitive fog still, you know, and even just breathing sometimes is hard because I have some lung damage."

Click the landing image below to see our full, interactive Facing 2020 project.

Arevalo used to coach football and one of his former players works at the pharmacy where he picks up his medication.

"He saw me come in after some time and he told me, 'Coach, you look like you're ready to get back on on the field.' And I kind of laugh because he doesn't know all the inside things. I look good, but there's still a lot going on."

Another unexpected side-effect of COVID-19 for Arevalo: he's more emotional than he used to be, he says. He chokes back tears as he tells us how grateful he is to still be alive, how he's fighting every day to keep a promise to his daughter - to stay alive long enough to help raise his grandson.

When Thanksgiving came around this year, Arevalo insisted on celebrating. Despite his fatigue and weariness, he cooked a full meal for everyone in the multi-generational household. After all, he says he has a lot to be thankful for. At the top of the list: no empty seats at the family table.

We spoke to 12 more people who had a life-changing 2020, from COVID-19, to the California fires to the Black Lives Matter movement. Click here to read their stories.