Speaking publicly for the first time since battling serious pneumonia, Tri-Valley Congressman Mark DeSaulnier earlier this week shared the story of his critical hospitalization in his own words and reflected on the imprint that the near-death experience has left on him and how it will influence his public service going forward.
The third-term Democrat from Concord spent nearly two months in the hospital after developing life-threatening, non-COVID pneumonia in mid-March in the days after breaking multiple ribs in a fall while running in Washington, D.C.
"My doctors and nurses were fabulous. I was called on a few occasions 'a medical miracle.' I don't know what providence or good faith or technology or talented doctors led me to be able to continue to live, but at one point I was given a 10% chance of surviving," DeSaulnier said during a video message on Facebook on Memorial Day.
"I'm so grateful, and I can't tell you what kind of impression this leaves on someone … I am so grateful every day for every breath. Every day. And for the people I love and care for," he added.
DeSaulnier, who was cleared to return to his duties with the U.S. House of Representatives this week, said he was looking forward to getting back to work on behalf of the 11th Congressional District and confirmed he would continue his campaign for re-election this fall.
"It is my full intention to seek re-election in November, to get re-election if you so choose, and to spend the next two years hopefully in a new administration, with new control over both Congress (houses) helping to repair the damage of the past four years to this country, in my view," the congressman said.
DeSaulnier, 68, spoke for just over 11 minutes during an emotional, yet direct, video message to constituents -- his eyes, cheeks and breath still exhibiting the wear of over seven weeks in the hospital, including nearly a month on a ventilator.
"It's been quite a while since I did one of these videos," DeSaulnier, whose district includes Danville and Alamo, said to open his Memorial Day message.
He began by thanking friends, supporters and strangers for the wealth of well-wishes he's received -- "hundreds, thousands" of emails, letters and phone calls, as he put it.
"I just want to tell you how moving it's been," DeSaulnier said. "I also want to tell you how grateful I am for my family, my two sons and my staff -- just remarkable. I'm so lucky to have them, and the friends that have been so supportive through a very unusual and difficult time."
His congressional staff, and his sons Tucker and Tristan, had given periodic updates to the community on his status when hospitalized, but Monday marked the first time DeSaulnier commented in-depth on the situation publicly.
DeSaulnier, an experienced runner who completed 23 marathons in the past, said he went out for a run on March 4 in D.C., trying to get his mileage back up to a higher count.
"This night I took a wonderful run, from my home on Capitol Hill down to father Abraham, the Lincoln Memorial, so inspiring. Past the World War II Memorial, past the World War I Memorial, to Lincoln and back, past Vietnam, past Washington and up to the Capitol and home," he said, continuing:
"I had built my speed up, and I was pretty proud of myself. So my adrenaline was running and I sort of kicked in to get through the intersection, and I took a fall."
DeSaulnier said as an experienced runner, he was no stranger to the occasional fall -- and the scraped palms, and bruised ego, that normally come with it.
But that evening was different.
"In this instance, unfortunately, I was carrying my cellphone in my right hand. I would advise against doing that," he said, with a little smile. "And I tucked my elbow as I flew through the air and I landed on my ribs. I broke multiple ribs, hurt my spleen and was in quite a bit of pain."
DeSaulnier said he walked the few blocks home and iced up, and in the morning went to go see a doctor. The congressman was prescribed pain medication and sent home.
"By the 14th, my lungs were filled with pneumonia," he said, noting that his age and cancer history made him more susceptible to that sort of infection.
The day before, on March 13, he said he went to the medical center in the U.S. Capitol and was immediately transported by ambulance to George Washington Medical Center.
The congressman would go on to spend almost five weeks in the intensive care unit -- "four of which I was on a ventilator, and I don't remember any of this." That included his 68th birthday on March 31.
The situation was dire.
"On a key night, the doctor called my sons and told them that my organs were breaking down and they had little they could do, but they wanted to try a dated medical procedure to try and take pressure off my organs, particularly my kidney," DeSaulnier said.
"They did it. And the next day my sons, expecting a phone call from the hospital saying I had passed away in the night, instead get a phone call and they say I was a little bit better," he said. "Every day I got better. There were lots of challenges. Eventually my eyes opened. I was able to have a conversation."
DeSaulnier improved from critical to stable condition, transferred to another hospital wing and completed rehabilitation including cognitive, physical and speech therapy. He was discharged to continue his recovery at home during the first weekend of May.
"The doctors tell me I should expect a full recovery, much of which I have already done, although my endurance has to get better -- you can hear by my throat," he said in the video.
DeSaulnier said he was returning to work in Congress this week with doctors' clearance. And he was ready and able to give "complete dedication to my work."
"I love my work," the congressman said, adding that he hopes to return to his district soon, once doctors allow him to fly.
He vowed to continue his campaign for re-election. DeSaulnier earned the top spot in the 11th District primary election with 71.20% of the vote, with results certified while he was in the hospital. He will face Nisha Sharma, a Republican real estate professional from Danville, in the two-candidate runoff in November.
He also acknowledged the country is in a much different place than when he went into the hospital 2-1/2 months ago because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. DeSaulnier tested negative for COVID-19 on March 16 while in the hospital.
"At the same period of time that I was going through this, the country, the world and the Congress were adjusting to the age of COVID," he said.
DeSaulnier implored viewers to wear masks in public, to help protect vulnerable Americans like him.
"When I do go out, I wear a mask. I keep six feet; I really have to because of my susceptibility to another infection and how deadly that would be for me if I get COVID," he said.
DeSaulnier wrapped up his Memorial Day message by reflecting on the Gettysburg Address and words of President Abraham Lincoln.
Quoting near the end of Lincoln's speech, DeSaulnier said, "It is up for us, the living, to rededicate our purpose. To make certain that a country founded on the premise that it would be governed by, of and for the people shall not perish from the Earth."
In his own words, DeSaulnier responded: "For reasons I can't explain, we are at one of those moments. Maybe not as serious as Gettysburg, but equally as threatening. It's up to us, the living, in 2020, and our kids to rededicate ourselves to shared sacrifice and individual sacrifice to make sure this country continues success and with all its shortcomings continues to try, as Lincoln also said, to become a more perfect union.
"I pledge to you, as long as my health provides for it and you allow me to serve you, that I will do that. Such a great honor."