Former Broncos fitness and nutrition guru Bill Phillips’ message for Coloradans is to the point: Get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“If it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody,” said Phillips, who worked as the performance nutrition and supplementation expert for the Denver Broncos in the late 1990s during their Super Bowl championships and is the author of Body-for-LIFE.
“It’s not a political issue,” he added. “It’s a public health issue.”
A little more than two weeks ago, the 56-year-old was in a medically induced coma and hooked up to a ventilator to help him to breathe because of the coronavirus. He spent 47 days intubated and lost 70 pounds during his time at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood.
Phillips said he chose not to get a COVID-19 vaccine because he had the virus before and thought the antibodies would be enough to protect him from reinfection.
“I did not get vaccinated because I made a mistake,” he said during an interview at the hospital. “I thought since I had COVID in January 2020, I was immune to it.”
He added, “That mistake came…close to costing my life.”
When Phillips was admitted to the hospital — which is operated by Centura Health — on June 25 he already had pneumonia. He was healthy and active before his second infection. Now, he’s had to relearn how to walk and other skills, said his wife, Maria Phillips.
Phillips expects to be discharged on Wednesday.
“It’s a misconception that you need to have pre-existing condition to get sick and die from COVID,” said Dr. Alex Benson, a critical care physician with St. Anthony’s Hospital, adding, “If you had (COVID) that doesn’t mean you are fully protected, and you should get vaccinated.”
Colorado is experiencing another wave in COVID-19 infections as the more transmissible delta variant spreads across the nation. The increase is not yet as bad as other states, but hospitalizations reached their third-highest point Monday since the crisis began with 734 patients. That’s up from 324 hospitalizations a month ago.
The state also reported 10,277 new cases last week, which is up 2,525 cases from the previous week, according to data from the state health department.
More than 3.2 million Coloradans — about 66.6% of those eligible — are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
A majority of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 in 2021 have been unvaccinated or only partially inoculated, according to state public health officials. While there have been an increase in breakthrough cases in vaccinated people, the shots are protecting against severe disease that can cause hospitalizations or death.
Phillips had three family members get COVID-19 after getting vaccinated, including his 91-year-old stepfather. Unlike him, they had mild systems and were not hospitalized, said Maria Phillips, who has since gotten inoculated.
“We didn’t understand this is possible,” she said. “Bill will probably never be the same, but we’re just so grateful he is alive.”
On Monday, federal regulators approved Pfizer’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine — an action that state officials and public health experts hope will spur more people to get inoculated. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement to the people who’ve been waiting for full approval, “that day is finally here and you can start the protection clock today.”