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Morning Report: Alexander Volkanovski details harrowing battle with COVID-19

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is starting to recover after his battle with COVID-19 and now that he’s feeling better, the champ has outline his harrowing battle with the disease.

In a video posted to his YouTube channel, Volkanovski went into intense detail documenting his experience with COVID-19, including pictures and videos from his two stays in the hospital. It all started, Volkanovski said, shortly after the UFC informed him he had tested positive.

“I started feeling it in the lungs a bit so my breathing started to get uncomfortable and I started coughing up phlegm, coming up pinky, bloody,” Volkanovski said. “Like a bit of blood in there, it was coming up pinky. . . So that’s when we though, ‘Alright, maybe we should start looking into this.’ Obviously I’m still getting bad fevers and whatnot but that’s sort of common symptoms. . .

“They end up doing some scans on my chest and lungs and Dr. Davidson comes back to me and says, ‘Look, we’ve done scans and you’ve got COVID pneumonia. So the infection has spread into the lungs.’ Sort of mild case, it can be pretty common, but we didn’t need too much there. It can be pretty common and me being young and healthy, we don’t need no medication.”

Given the relative mildness of his symptoms, Volkanovski said the doctor’s released him from the hospital and allowed him to return to his hotel room without medication, with the caveat that the champ needed to monitor his oxygen levels and return if they dropped below 93. Not long after that, Volkanovski says his oxygen levels did begin dropping and when he began coughing up even more blood, the decision was made to check back into the hospital.

“I remember having the sleep that night,” Volkanovski said. “I felt that the fevers were getting better, the fevers and headaches were starting to go but that’s when we starting noticing the oxygen levels were going low...

“My team was coming in and checking up on me. You’re obviously very fatigued and tired and sleeping in most of the day. I was sleeping in until like 12 during the middle of the day some of the days. That’s when the boys were starting to say, ‘You’re looking pretty pale, you’re not looking too good.’ So they told me afterwards. (Laughs) I didn’t think I looked that bad but the boys were saying I was looking pretty rough. So they kept coming in telling me I should maybe go to the hospital again. But at that stage, my numbers were fluctuating but I felt like I could get them back up. The sputum did get a little worse so we were sitting on the fence...

“Then the last day, the numbers were still low in the morning but I was coughing up more blood. That’s when there was a lot of blood in my sputum. I was coughing up a lot more blood and I sent the photos to my doctor and he goes, ‘Look man, we’re gonna have to get you another checkup.’”

This time, Volkanovski would not be sent home so quickly. The champ explained that upon his second visit to the hospital it was determined that his case had gotten much worse and he would need to be on IVs and medication, with constant heart monitoring, a situation which Volkanovski admits because to scare him.

“My heart rate started getting very low,” Volkanovski said. “There was a stage where I started to freak out a little bit because I talked to the doctor the second time I went in there and he said I’d gotten a lot worse. The lung doctor came in and another doctor talked to me and was explaining to me, ‘Look, you’ve got to be on medication but don’t worry, you’ll be fine. We’ll keep monitoring.’ Then I asked him about can it spread to anywhere else, maybe the heart and all that because I was noticing my heart rate dropping each day. It just got lower and lower. So they said I would notice because it would hurt and my heart rate would go lower so I had that in my mind, which was freakish for me.

“The next morning, they had the ladies checking up on me because they had the heart rate monitor on me 24/7 and the guys go, ‘They’re just checking up because your heart rate is getting a bit lower so I need to just keep getting your vitals and whatnot. You’re getting down to 37 (beats per minute).’ So that started freaking me out. I start thinking, Oh s***, maybe this is starting to get into my heart now, infection in the heart, so I started getting nervous. But the doctors assured me that I’m very young and healthy and fit so don’t worry, your heart is fine. So that made me feel better because I ended up averaging all night 37 and I got down to 35 beats per minute. That’s pretty low.

“After that, each day in the hospital, there was no more blood in my phlegm, my breathing started getting a lot better. Obviously, I was very uncomfortable previous to the hospital visit but I started really seeing improvements so the medication was working and that made me feel a lot better.”

Fortunately, Volkanovki was able to recover fairly rapidly once on medication and was released back to his hotel room feeling much better. But though he’s on the mend, the champion explains that he’s not back to 100 percent yet and he’s still a good stretch away from being able to return to full training.

“Obviously, I haven’t done much training for the last few weeks but now that I’m better, (the UFC doctor told me) I can slowly, no more than 50 percent light week,” Volkanovski said. “Then 75 percent next week and then start to pick it up. I’ve got to ease into it... So I guess I can start to do about 50 percent. I wish I could go harder but I’ve got to ease into it. Obviously recovery is very important. It’s gonna be a fair few weeks where I need to ease into it and recover. Obviously I don’t want to have problems like some guys like Cody Garbrandt and Khamzat (Chimaev) got. Obviously they had a lot of lung problems and it was starting to effect them and now I feel it.”

The champion is in luck though. After his planned featherweight title defense against Brian Ortega was postponed because of his failed test, the UFC has now chosen to make lemonade out of these particular lemons. Volkanovski and Ortega will now serve as the coaches for the return of The Ultimate Fighter later this year, giving the champion plenty of time to recover from his bout with COVID. It’s time that Volkanovski says he needs because the pandemic is not something to take lightly.

“This whole COVID thing is no joke... The symptoms got pretty wild,” Volkanovski concluded. “We got the normal symptoms and then they can lead to other things. So I got the normal symptoms and they lead into pneumonia, lung problems, and it got pretty serious. I feel like if I was a bit more unhealthy, maybe a bit more overweight or I had other underlying problems, you can see why people pass away and things like that. This is quite serious. I’ve always taken it serious but now I understand it’s quite unpredictable and very, very contagious. It somehow got in got a few members of our team.

“It was a crazy experience but we’re all good now.”


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Thanks for reading and see y’all tomorrow.


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