Florida man whose ‘game changer’ coronavirus treatment was touted by Trump is a believer, but warns: Don’t try this at home

It’s been less than a week since  Rio Giardinieri claimed his coronavirus was cured overnight by an anti-malaria drug touted by President Trump and by Fox News, and he has no complaints. 

“Man, I'm alive and kickin’,” Giardinieri told Yahoo News over the phone Wednesday.  “Feeling good.”

The 52-year-old said he was finally able to return to his home in Miami Shores Tuesday night, after being hospitalized for coronavirus and pneumonia for about a week. The story of Giardinieri’s remarkable recovery, which was first reported Monday by a local Fox affiliate in Los Angeles, quickly became the subject of national news — and speculation — after it was picked up by the New York Post and tweeted by President Trump, who hailed the news as a “great early result” from the drug which has yet to be approved as a treatment for coronavirus. 

Clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine — a drug used to treat malaria and some autoimmune conditions such as lupus — in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin were set to begin in New York on Tuesday, but Trump had been touting the unproven drug combination as a “game changer” for coronavirus since last week. 

Despite warnings from experts that existing evidence of the drugs’ effect on coronavirus symptoms is limited and largely anecdotal, Trump’s promotion of the prospective treatment has prompted stockpiling, limiting access to the lifesaving drug for lupus patients, and fatally misinformed attempts to self-medicate

In an attempt to ward off coronavirus, an Arizona couple in their 60s reportedly ingested chloroquine phosphate, mistaking the aquarium-cleaning ingredient for the anti-malaria medication they’d heard the president promoting on television. The mistake proved to be lethal for the man, and landed his wife in critical care. 

“The one thing that scares me to death is people taking these stories and going out and self-diagnosing and self-medicating,” said Giardinieri. “They can't do that. They've got to go to a doctor.”

Getty ImagesFlanked by Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, in the press briefing room of the White House on March 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)Getty Images

Giardinieri told Yahoo News that since his recovery, he’s received messages from many people on social media asking him about how to take hydroxychloroquine. “I'm like, no no. You got this wrong. It's a dangerous drug. Don't take this unless it's being prescribed and you get your dosage based on your weight and your size and how your body reacts.”

Still, he feels it's important to let the public know that “there's hope out there. There is something out there that can cure you.”

“I'm not a doctor, I'm not a scientist. I can only tell you that I have 100 percent belief that this saved my life,” he said. 

So far, no doctor or hospital official involved in his care has been willing to confirm, or dispute, that belief. 

Giardinieri said that about five days before going to the hospital, he began experiencing symptoms beginning with extreme fatigue. “I’m a guy that sleeps five hours a day — I have my entire adult life,” he said, but suddenly he was sleeping for 12 to 15 hours at a stretch.  He soon developed a fever, a terrible headache, and a persistent pain below his shoulder blades. 

“By the time I got to the hospital, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and COVID-19,” Giardinieri said. Though the initial report by Fox 11 Los Angeles stated that Giardinieri was admitted to Joe DiMaggio children’s hospital in Hollywood, Florida, he clarified that he was in fact treated at Regional Memorial hospital, which is next door and part of the same health care system as Joe DiMaggio. A spokesperson for Memorial Healthcare System corporate communications told Yahoo News that Giardinieri “was never a patient at our pediatric facility, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. That was reported incorrectly.” However, the spokesperson declined to confirm or deny that he had been treated at Memorial Regional, citing HIPAA protections.  

Rio Giardinieri as seen on Fox News. The story of Giardinieri’s remarkable recovery from coronavirus was first reported Monday, March 23, 2020 by Fox 11 in Los Angeles. (Fox News)Fox News

According to the account Giardinieri provided to Yahoo News, doctors never told Giardinieri that his diagnosis of coronavirus compounded with pneumonia would be fatal, but by Friday he’d become convinced that he was unlikely to survive. 

“It was my feeling based on how it was progressing, how my heart was doing, how my breathing was doing. It was getting shallower and shallower by the day,” he said. So, he began reaching out to family and friends to say goodbye. One friend responded with a text urging him to ask his doctor for hydroxychloroquine, which he’d heard about on the Laura Ingraham Show. The Fox News host has talked about the Trump-endorsed medication multiple times on her show since last week, even saying that she’d “happily volunteer” to test the drug as a treatment for coronavirus. 

Giardinieri says he asked a nurse about the medication who relayed his request to the doctor, who informed Giardinieri that he could not provide him with the drug, but put him in touch with an infectious disease doctor who, after speaking to  Giardinieri on the phone, agreed to authorize the use of hydroxychloroquine. Thirty minutes later, Giardinieri said, a nurse was giving him his first dose in pill form. 

The next morning, he says, he woke up completely symptom-free. 

In response to requests for confirmation of Giardinieri’s account, the hospital’s corporate spokesperson told Yahoo News in an email that “Memorial Healthcare System is unable to discuss the care that anyone may or may not be receiving at one of our facilities. Doing so is a violation of HIPAA legislation. Our position has been and will always be completely respectful of an individual’s right to confidentiality and privacy.”

“If Mr. Giardinieri chooses to share his information with you, that’s his choice,” the email continued. “We are following CDC guidelines for the care of COVID-19. For more information about the treatment you’ve referenced, please refer to their website.”

The CDC’s website states that “there are no US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs specifically for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.” However, it notes that “hydroxychloroquine has been administered to hospitalized COVID-19 patients on an uncontrolled basis in multiple countries, including in the United States” and that the medication is currently under investigation in clinical trials for “treatment of patients with mild, moderate, and severe COVID-19.” 

Medical staff shows a packet of Plaqueril, tablets containing hydroxychloroquine, drug that has shown signs of effectiveness against coronavirus, at the IHU Mediterranee Infection Institute in Marseille on February 26, 2020.  The Mediterranee infection Institute in Marseille based in La Timone Hospital is at the forefront of the prevention against coronavirus in France. (Gerard Julian/ AFP via Getty Images)Getty Images

Giardinieri told Yahoo News that he was asked by the hospital not to provide the names of any doctors or other staff who treated him. 

“They don't want to give credit to the pill. They say it could be in conjunction with other things they were doing,” he said. “And I understand their position, they don't want to assume liability on something that's not scientifically tested.” 

Giardinieri said that, despite his request for a new coronavirus test, the hospital declined to re-test him to confirm that he has, in fact, been cured of the virus. Though he’s been discharged from the hospital, he said he’s still required by the state to self-quarantine, telling Yahoo News that he had to register with the Florida Department of Health on Wednesday morning. And he’s still taking hydroxychloroquine for two more days. 

Giardinieri reiterated that he is not advising anyone to go out and take hydroxychloroquine on their own, and acknowledged the hospital’s reluctance to endorse this unproven treatment. 

Nonetheless, when asked why he still wanted to tell his story, despite those qualifications, he said, “Are you kidding me? When you're facing death and you've had 9 days of fever and back pain and headaches and a friend of yours suggests it to you, you ask for it, you take it and within 10 hours you're symptom free? I think the world needs to know that.”


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