Trevor Smith Almost Dies of the Flu, Fitness Helps Him “Pull Through”

February 2, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Trevor Smith
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One year ago, CrossFit Level Two Coach Trevor Smith almost died from a combination of influenza A, pneumonia and a staph infection that led his organs to shut down and put him into heart failure. Today, though he’s still not 100 percent, he is gearing up for the CrossFit Open in March.

  • Though Smith will have to scale some of the workouts, he’s OK with that, he explained. “I know that my long-term health will be better achieved by making the workouts personal for where I’m at now,” said the 28-year-old. 

The details: On January 31, 2020, Smith’s fiance rushed him to the hospital. A day later, he was flown to Duke University hospital and was placed on a ventilator in the ICU, where he stayed for two weeks receiving dialysis and ECMO, a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung. Without ECMO, he would have died, he said. 

  • Smith’s official diagnosis was acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). “It’s really uncommon for someone my age,” said Smith, who was healthy and fit without any preexisting conditions. 
  • “Individually the illnesses I had (influenza A that resulted in pneumonia and a staph infection) wouldn’t have done that to my body, but together, that was the result,” said Smith, who, at the time, owned CrossFit Pathway in Fuquay-Varina, NC.

Smith’s recovery: By the time Smith left the hospital at the end of February 2020, he had shed 40 pounds from his already lean body. “I was 140 pounds. I weighed that much in high school,” he said. 

  • When he got home, Smith could barely make it up the 41 steps to his apartment. “I had to take a break halfway. I was so deconditioned and weak. Just getting up those stairs was like my ‘mother lifting a car off her child moment,’” he said. 
  • Two weeks later, COVID-19 hit, the world shut down, and Smith, who was still recovering at home, had to make a decision about his affiliate. “I had been working 50 to 80 hours a week. I was coaching over 1,000 classes a year…and then we shut down for COVID, and with everything I was going through, I just couldn’t handle it anymore…It stinks for the community, but it made sense at the time,” he said of his decision to close his gym.

Today: Smith has regained 30 pounds and his lung function feels “1,000 times better,” but he still isn’t 100 percent. He continues to take one medication because he was in heart failure for so long, but he expects to come off of it soon. He’s also back to coaching part-time, albeit at a new gym, CrossFit Coordinate in Cary, NC. 

One big thing: Smith credits his health and fitness prior to getting sick for saving his life, and for putting him in a position where he will eventually be able to make a full recovery.

  • “My fitness helped me pull through…Definitely, if I didn’t have any fitness or I wasn’t as healthy as I was, I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said. CrossFit has also been instrumental in his recovery in recent months, he added.
  • Smith’s pulmonologist is confident she may only have to see him as a patient one more time. “I’m kind of her miracle baby. I wasn’t supposed to make it,” he said. 

The big picture: After a year from hell, Smith has a new appreciation for life, one that has only increased his passion for fitness. And for the Open in particular.

  • “The Open is really important to me. I haven’t missed one since 2015,” he said. “To me, the Open is a personal thing. My health and fitness will always change, so let’s just see where I’m at and have fun. It’s more than a competition…This year will be different, but the feelings and the excitement and the nerves are all still there.”
  • His message to others: Even if you’re not as fit as you were last year because of the craziness of 2020, do the Open anyway. “To me, CrossFit is the Open…I don’t do the Open because I love doing thrusters and burpees and pull-ups every year. (I do it for) the spirit and the togetherness. For the community. Here I am, post heart failure, post-COVID. It might look different and feel different this year, but it’s still that celebration.”

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