Dr. Rick Pitera, an anesthesiologist at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, didn't quite make the connection when he began treating Danny Radice in his fight against the novel coronavirus.
"I kept asking, 'Who is it? Who is it?'" Dr. Pitera said. "'Oh, you know him.' They didn't tell me who it was."
He knew he was treating a colleague from the physical therapy unit, but it took three days for it to register to Dr. Pitera exactly who was underneath the ventilator mask.
"Then all of the sudden it hit me," he said. "I said, 'Oh my gosh, that's not just any physical therapist, this is the guy who took care of me.'"
Radice was from the cardiac rehab department, and just six years ago, he spent three hours a day, six days a week as Dr. Pitera's exercise therapist after he suffered a heart attack.
"I was alert enough to know who he was," Radice said. "It was hard to tell who anybody was by looking at them, but I remember faintly hearing his voice. And it was his voice that I remember more than seeing them."
And Dr. Pitera was even more determined that normal to take care of his patient.
"This is the guy that helped me," he said. "Oh my God, I have to help him, no matter what. I've got to make this guy better."
Not only did Radice have a physician he personally knew treating him for COVID-19, he also had a cheerleader in the ICU when his family couldn't be by his side.
"This is the guy that after we on rounds, I would pull up a chair and sit next to him and say, 'Come on man, let's go. You're going to get better. We're going to get you through this,'" Dr. Pitera said.
Radice was grateful for the special attention.
"Rick sat down next to me because I was a little bit awake," he said. "So I spoke to my children, I spoke to my wife."
It was an example of the virus bringing out the best in people, motivating them to go the extra mile in what may have been the difference between life and death.
"I'm just lucky he was there," Radice said. "I'm just lucky he was there. It's just funny how it comes around. You take care of somebody, and later on they're there to help you when you need them."
MORE CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 COVERAGE
COVID-19 Help, Information and Resources
New York state
New York City
Grieving the lost: Tri-State residents who have died
Share your coronavirus story with Eyewitness News
Stimulus check scams and other coronavirus hoaxes
Coronavirus prevention: how clean are your hands?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on coronavirus
Coronavirus cases by NJ county