A Hollywood stuntman has revealed his ordeal as one of the first American residents to get coronavirus – and how it nearly killed him.
Gianluca Di Medio, a stuntman for Fast & Furious movies, Terminator Dark Fate, Twin Peaks and now in an upcoming war film says he was filming in North East China in mid January when he collapsed on set after eating street market meat.
The actor said he was quarantined by doctors and spent six days in intensive care in a small town hospital close to the border with North Korea, hooked up to a ventilator and IV, while dozens of his fellow cast and crew fell ill too.
Di Medio, 40, eventually made a full recovery and returned to Los Angeles in February – but now says he is petrified that Americans are failing to take the virus seriously.
Stuntman Gianluca Di Medio was on the set of a new movie filming in North East China when he contracted coronavirus in mid January after eating street meat
He tells DailyMailTV that he nearly died, spent six days in the ICU in a small hospital on the border of North Korea and was hooked up to a ventilator
‘I nearly died. Now I only go outside for essentials: food and the pharmacy. But I see pictures on social media of people on the beach, on Spring Break, and it p***es me off,’ he told DailyMail.com. ‘If people knew what I knew they wouldn’t be doing yoga on the beach, they’d be sat at home in isolation.’
Di Medio spoke to DailyMail.com hours before California’s governor Gavin Newsom issued an unprecedented statewide ‘stay at home order’ Thursday directing the state’s 40 million residents to hunker down in their homes for the foreseeable future.
‘You feel like you’re not breathing at all,’ he said. ‘The first symptom is the breathing problems, then you feel weak, so weak you can’t feed yourself’
Not all states in the nation have such an order in place and photos of hundreds of college students partying on the beach in Miami, Florida to celebrate St Patrick’s Day Tuesday sparked widespread concern.
Recalling his coronavirus nightmare, Di Medio says he flew to Kuandian, a remote town about 25 miles from China’s northeastern border with North Korea, on January 15 to shoot on location for a $190 million-budget war movie.
He’s reluctant to name the movie or reveal its stars as he doesn’t want to be behind any negative publicity for the production.
Unknown to Di Medio or the rest of the world, the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan 1,200 miles away was gathering pace, and that same day a traveler who would become the US’ first confirmed case had flown the other direction, bringing the disease to America.
‘In Kuandian it was about minus 20 to minus 25 Fahrenheit, the temperature was almost inhuman,’ he said. ‘Nobody speaks English in the town. But we were training on the set about 14 or 15 hours each day, and the first few days were ok.’
The Italian-born actor said his troubles began when he and his fellow cast members ventured out into the town on January 17 to get some dinner.
‘The production said we were finished early, they told us to go enjoy the rest of the day,’ he said.
‘We were having a good time. Everything is so cheap there. We went to get dinner at the street market close by our hotel. We’re not talking about a market of vegetables and fruits. It’s more cooked meats, any type of animal,’ he said. ‘They don’t show you what you’re actually going to get. You get a skewer of any meat you choose, and you pay by skewer.’
‘They found I had bad pneumonia and put me in quarantine. They had me on a ventilator and IV 24 hours a day,’ he tells DailyMailTV. He posted this photo in the hospital
‘They don’t show you what you’re actually going to get. You get a skewer of any meat you choose, and you pay by skewer,’ he said of the meat in China
Di Medio, who has been a stuntman for Fast & Furious movies, Terminator Dark Fate and Twin Peaks, collapsed on set after eating the street market meat
Di Medio said a few hours later he began to feel the first symptoms. ‘When I arrived back in the hotel I felt weak. I felt like I had a fever, I had a headache. I thought it was just the jet lag, so I took Advil, and went to take a hot shower. I felt a little better after the hot shower.
‘I told my roommate the symptoms, he said he felt the same. We thought it was the jet lag, so we went to bed.’
The Italian stuntman said the next morning most of his colleagues who had eaten at the street market were feeling similarly groggy.
‘We had breakfast together, and I was asking everyone how they felt. Most people who ate the street food were feeling weak and had a headache,’ he said. ‘At first I thought it was jet lag, or maybe food poisoning. I’ve had it many times here in LA on studio sets.’
Di Medio thought he was over his supposed stomach bug, until two days later he collapsed on set.
‘It was the middle of the day, it was snowing, negative 25. I was on set in a stunt scene. I had some lines with a big name actor, but they weren’t there, there was a stand in for them,’ he said.
‘I was feeling my pulse in my throat, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I said ”guys I can’t breathe,” and they told me I was losing color in my face. Then I fell to the ground.’
A driver on set rushed the actor to the town’s hospital. Di Medio said when the doctors saw his symptoms, they immediately quarantined him.
He said: ‘I couldn’t open my eyes. I was just praying. They checked everything on me. As soon as they heard I couldn’t breathe, they put me in quarantine.
‘The doctor, whose English was very poor, said, ”This is a bad virus. You need to be put on a hospital bed right away”.
‘They put me on a ventilator to be able to breathe. In 25 minutes they did an ECG, MRI, x-ray.
‘They found I had bad pneumonia and put me in quarantine. They had me on a ventilator and IV 24 hours a day.
‘The only people who would come were people to feed me. I couldn’t walk.’
Di Medio said the hellish symptoms he endured were the worst he’d felt in his life, and he feared he could die
Di Medio spoke about fainting on set. ‘I was feeling my pulse in my throat, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I said ”guys I can’t breathe,” and they told me I was losing color in my face. Then I fell to the ground’
Di Medio said the hellish symptoms he endured were the worst he’d felt in his life, and he feared he could die.
‘You feel like you’re not breathing at all,’ he said. ‘The first symptom is the breathing problems, then you feel weak, so weak you can’t feed yourself. The nurses had to feed me three times a day.
‘We need to lock down like in China. In Italy a lot of people are dying every day because they don’t listen to the rules,’ the actor said
‘I had a high fever, first 39 then 41.5 [Celsius – 102 -107.7 Farenheit]. Your body feels like you’re dying. Your body is shaking, aches.
‘Then you get a cough. Your lungs are full of s**t. When you’re coughing the pain is so strong on your chest. All you do is pray.
‘The first three days are the worst. If you don’t get a ventilator you pretty much can die. If you have asthma or respiratory problems you might not have a chance.’
The actor said after four days in hospital he was able to feed himself and he was discharged to self-quarantine after six days.
‘The first thing I wanted to do was to get a big American burger. They were feeding me with everything steamed and boiled.
‘But they saved my life. The machines were really old and creaky in that hospital. The walls didn’t look like they’d been washed in 35 years. But I wouldn’t be here without them,’ he said.
Cooped up in his hotel on his first night out of hospital, Di Medio watched from the window as his fellow crew celebrated Chinese New Year by setting off fireworks in the street.
Isolated in quarantine and with sparse news reports of the Wuhan epidemic in the authoritarian country, he only learned of the growing global spread of coronavirus, which he knew as ‘CVID’, from his parents and girlfriend in Italy.
Di Medio said for six days after his release, doctors asked him to return to the hospital each day to be hooked up to an IV for three hours.
‘I don’t know what was in the IV, I think it was antibodies. It made me feel stronger each day,’ he said. ‘I don’t have any medical documents because they didn’t let me keep them.’
The movie crew were bussed four hours to the nearest airport, and flown back to Los Angeles
By January 25, dozens of his colleagues and many of the 2,500 Chinese extras hired for the war movie had fallen ill and the production was canceled
The actor said after four days in the hospital he was able to feed himself and he was discharged to self-quarantine after six days
By January 25, dozens of his colleagues and many of the 2,500 Chinese extras hired for the war movie had fallen ill and the production was canceled.
The stuntman said the previously bustling streets of the town were quiet and locals were all wearing masks. The movie crew were bussed four hours to the nearest airport, and flown back to Los Angeles.
‘Right now I’ve been back for two and a half months, I’m immune now,’ claimed Di Medio.
‘But people need to know this is not a regular flu. At the beginning you think it is. It changes and gets worse and worse. You have to act aggressively, quickly. I want people to take quarantine seriously.’
He says he no longer leaves the house except for necessary trips to the supermarket and pharmacy, and always carries with him a mask with a replaceable filter, gloves and a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer, while he keeps a liter-sized one at home.
‘I saw yesterday people going hiking, doing yoga on Santa Monica beach. People were on Spring Break in Florida,’ he said. ‘I’m immune to the virus now, but I don’t go to the gym or play basketball. I don’t fuck around any more. People should be taking this seriously.
‘We need to lock down like in China. In Italy a lot of people are dying every day because they don’t listen to the rules.
‘I didn’t speak out until now because I hoped the government would have a strong response.
‘But now I see things in a different way. People need to take it seriously.’