He saw COVID before most of the West, and survived

A year ago, on February 21, the tiny town of Codogno became the first in Italy to have a confirmed case of coronavirus.

Soon it was the first in Europe to lock down.

Doctor Francesco Tursi, a lung specialist, became one of the first in the West to join the frontline when cases started to flood into Codogno's hospital.

“I saw these patients succumb to serious breathing problems and I would apply everything that I had studied, everything I knew, but sometimes these patients just didn’t respond. This just left our hearts in pieces and our heads devastated.”

A few weeks later, Tursi began feeling extreme fatigue, not explainable even by the long shifts he was working. Then came strong chest pains, like a heart attack.

“I realised around March 1 that I wasn’t a superhero but I was a victim of the virus. My world just fell apart.”

He was treated in nearby Milan. The worst part was that his wife was five months' pregnant with their first child, one he feared he might never see.

"I didn't dare hope. I thought maybe the whole year was going to be terrible for me, that maybe my life would end. But my life didn't end. When I saw Antonio, I just didn’t believe it until I actually held him in my arms after he was born. My mind just started to soar again.”

Tursi recovered in about six weeks, and was soon back on the job. And now he had a new tool to use - even more empathy for their suffering.

“Finally I was able to completely understand what a patient was feeling. Finally I could reach inside the hearts and heads of the patients because this virus doesn’t just affect the lungs but it affects everything and tries to destroy you.

"When I went to work in the hospital in the morning and the patients told me their symptoms, I would say 'Yes, that is post-Covid, I share those symptoms with you. What I can tell you, is that those are the symptoms I am suffering, so let's heal together.'”

A year on, Tursi is still treating Covid patients in Codogno, but the town has regained a semblance of normality.

Young people shop for clothes and pensioners reminisce in bars. Everyone wears masks and respects social distancing.

Tursi's son Antonio was born in July, and now every time he throws him into the air, he thinks about how he almost didn't live to savour that joy.

"I want to live. I want to live for Antonio, for Valentina, I want to live for everyone, I want to live for the world, I want to live for my patients."