Newport News School Board member thanks frontline workers, shares COVID-19 message


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A display of gratitude, an elected official survives COVID-19 and is now thanking frontline workers for putting him on the road to recovery.

John Eley, a Newport News School Board member, returned to the Sentara Careplex in Hampton nearly two months after he was diagnosed with coronavirus. 

He delivered handwritten notes and gifts for the doctors, nurses, and housekeepers at the Careplex.

“It was a lot of lonely nights and a lot of scary nights,” he said.

He says 17 hospital staff members worked around the clock to help him heal.

“I just felt obligated … that once I got 100 percent better, I said I will go to Sentara and just tell them ‘Thank you for being there for me and for providing me with such a great service.’ The level of care that I received, they didn’t have to do that.”

Eley tested positive for the virus in June. He was admitted to Sentara for five days. 

During his stay, he was sworn- in for a second term on the school board. He said city and hospital staff worked together to make the moment special.

“They made it happen. It just felt so great to have that much love, while at your bedside in the hospital … at your lowest point.”

Long-lasting effects

After Eley was discharged, he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Then he suffered nerve damage from the virus in his legs.

“I would wake up in the middle of the night and have numbness in my legs. Sometimes I couldn’t walk.”

However, he said the hardest part was the mental recovery.

 “The side effects, I would say, were horrible. 80 percent of the side effects that were horrible, were mental.”

After sharing his journey on social media, some people praised him, while others ostracized him.

“Because of the backlash from putting myself out there, I came into a very dark place of depression. People were being very mean, as a result of that, I had to get on anxiety medicine.”

His message to everyone: Take the virus seriously while also being kind.

“Treat people with respect because you never know when this virus may hit your home and affect you.”

School vote

It’s the painful recovery, both physically and mentally, that made him against in-person classes.

During the July 20 school board meeting Eley said, “I do not want to see a child, teacher or adult, anybody endure this pain that I had to endure.”

Last week, the school board voted for online classes in the fall.

Eley proudly says he is using his voice to keep the community safe.

“It wasn’t about me. It was to bring more awareness, that it’s real and to save another life… I was fortunate enough to live, but so many people with this virus are not fortunate enough to live. So, I wanted to put an extra stamp, that this virus is real.”

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