“Screamin’ Steve” Barlotta is a fixture at the Jersey Shore. As the saxophone player for the Sensational Soul Cruisers, he typically performs 200 shows a year. This spring, however, he was struggling to breathe while battling COVID-19.
Following a round of antibiotics for strep throat in mid-March, Steve, 57, still wasn’t feeling well ten days later. He went to CentraState’s Emergency Department, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted to the hospital.
Because there is no single treatment for COVID-19, it requires a team approach and multiple treatment strategies.
“Steve was extremely ill with every complication of the virus, including profound acute respiratory distress syndrome and blood clots,” explains Nirav N. Shah, DO, director of CentraState’s Critical Care Unit. “He was critically ill, but our Intensive Care Unit was ready to fight for him.”
Antibody Therapy Provides a Breakthrough
Because Steve could no longer breathe on his own, he needed a ventilator and was positioned on his stomach to improve his oxygenation. His treatment also included corticosteroids, blood thinners, remdesivir, and antibody therapy, including convalescent plasma. Recent studies have shown that antibodies in plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 can help some infected patients fight the virus. After nearly four weeks on a ventilator, Steve’s body finally responded to the various treatments.
“The staff at CentraState gave me the courage to keep fighting and breathing,” Steve recalls. “When the pulmonologist removed the ventilator tube, I took a deep breath and was so thankful.”
“Steve’s ability to come off the vent is a testament to his strength, internal spirit, and the support of his family—along with the tireless efforts of our clinical team,” says Dr. Shah.
After being in the ICU for 37 days, Steve was so weak that he could only move his thumb and wiggle his toes; he couldn’t speak, feed himself, or walk. He was discharged to Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Tinton Falls for physical, occupational, and speech therapy, where he continued to improve until he was discharged two months later. Now, Steve attends weekly physical and occupational therapy with team members of CentraState’s OceanFirst Rehabilitation Center, where he works on regaining mobility and function.
While he struggles with fatigue and at times still requires a cane, Steve’s already firing up his sax. He’s anxious to get back on stage and wants to counsel other COVID-19 survivors about staying motivated during rehab.
“Never underestimate the power of the human spirit,” Dr. Shah says. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Steve will be on stage again playing the music he loves—and I hope to be there.”
“This disease is real, but it can be beaten,” Steve says. “You just need to have faith and keep fighting.”
Visit our COVID-19 resource hub: centrastate.com/covid-19
Steve Barlotta was filmed for an NBC New York news segment with reporter Pat Battle to share his COVID-19 journey.
He played the saxophone for some clinical team members who cared for him while in the ICU: Nirav N. Shah, DO, Kenneth Barofsky, MD, Joanie Sapienza, MSN, CCRN, ACNP, and his current physical and occupational therapy team, Danielle Rizzo, MSOT, OTR/L and Rebecca Horton, PTA, BSPTA, CLT.