'My tall, strapping husband was crumpled in his chair'

Young fit UK bicyclist hit hard by COVID-19; Wife says, ‘No one is immune’

London-based Anna Schuchman says her fitness-hip family once thought drastic measures unnecessary, but when husband Dani fought for his life, she realized anyone can be at risk

Forty-year-old Dani Schuchman regularly rides 30 miles on his bicycle. (Courtesy)
Forty-year-old Dani Schuchman regularly rides 30 miles on his bicycle. (Courtesy)

LONDON — After a terrifying seven-day struggle for his life against COVID-19, 40-year-old Dani Schuchman has been released from the hospital. Now, to combat the fake news that young, fit people can’t get the disease, Schuchman’s wife Anna is telling that world: If her extremely sporty husband was susceptible to the virus, everyone is.

The couple, who have four children, live in Hendon, a northwest London suburb which is home to hundreds of Jews. In recent weeks, Anna told The Times of Israel, the family, who are members of the large Kinloss Synagogue (also known as Finchley United Synagogue), participated in events for the Purim holiday and attended two bar mitzvahs.

Anna Schuchman estimated that before the full lockdown was announced for Britain, she and her husband may easily have been in contact with 1,000 people both through daily life and at community events.

“Everyone I speak to in northwest London has had some sort of symptoms,” Anna said. “We know so many people who have had some mild signs, including loss of taste and smell, which has just been added to the list.”

Anna is a personal trainer and Dani works in IT. “He made the decision two weeks ago to have his team work from home, so he wasn’t using public transport. I suppose we thought that we were fine. We are both very fit, probably more so than the general public,” she said.

Dani’s collapse, which required Anna to rush him to Northwick Park Hospital due to acute breathing difficulty, came as a tremendous shock to both the couple and their children.

Dani Schuchman in the hospital, attached to a respirator, due to COVID-19. (Courtesy)

“Dani is super-fit and healthy,” she said, adding that he cycles 30 miles on Sunday mornings and has taken part in a cycling challenge for Norwood, a Jewish charity for children. “When we first heard about coronavirus and heard what Israel was doing, we did think they were a bit overreacting,” she said.

Israel has instituted strict measures to stem the spread of the virus that include the temporary closing of businesses, reduced public transportation, and nearly limiting people to their homes, with few exceptions.

When her husband developed a cough on March 15, Anna, who was working with her business partner Charlotte Winkler, became worried. Two days later her “tall, big, strapping husband was crumpled in his chair, he couldn’t lift his chin up,” Anna said.

Paramedics from the local Jewish ambulance service, Hatzalah, arrived at the Schuchmans’ home but decided not to take Dani to the hospital. The following day, Dani was confused and had difficulty breathing, so Anna decided to take him to the hospital herself.

She was not allowed to see her husband during his time at Northwick Park Hospital, where he was put on oxygen and monitored by the medical staff.

On March 25, after Dani showed he was able to breathe by himself for an hour without oxygen, he was discharged. “They pretty much threw him out because they need the beds,” she said.

They pretty much threw him out because they need the beds

On March 23, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson instructed the public to “stay at home” for all but a few exceptions and announced sweeping curbs on everyday activity, including the banning of any gatherings of more than two people, and ordering shops that don’t sell essential good, such as food and medicines, to close immediately.

Anna and Daniel Schuchman and their four children, Ella, 16, Gabe, 13, Micah, 10 and Amalya, 6 (Courtesy)

Dani is currently in quarantine, and in six weeks will have a follow-up x-ray on his lungs.

“It’s really just hitting me,” Anna said. “The relief and the shock. We were really blasé about COVID-19. I said, ‘well, we’re all going to get it.’ But I never imagined anything like this. People need to know that they are not invincible and that they could be spreading it.”

Anna regularly posts Instagram updates about her personal training work but stopped when her husband became ill. Now her business partner Winkler has persuaded her to share the story online. “People don’t realize that this could happen to anyone,” Anna said.

We were really blasé about COVID-19

Dani is recovering at home, but Anna said neither the couple nor his doctors know whether he and the family are now immune. “There is so much that is not known,” she said.

AP contributed to this report. 

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