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Double lung transplant recipient encourages people to get vaccine after bout with COVID-19

"I would strongly encourage getting the vaccine to protect yourself and your family, and if you're against the vaccine, at least be courteous and wear a mask wherever you go."

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If you're still hesitant about getting a vaccine or don't want to mask up, one young man said he hopes his story will help change your mind.

In March 2021, Blake Bargatze, 24, went to a concert in Florida where he lived. He thought the crowd would be small. Bargatze was not vaccinated, and he did wear a mask.

"Once I got in there, there was way too many and I got really hot, so I took it (mask) off, which probably wasn't the wisest decision on my part," Bargatze said.

His mother Cheryl Nuclo wasn't happy with him.

"When I found out he went to that concert, I was pretty upset about it," Nuclo said.

Two days later, Bargatze was diagnosed with COVID-19.

"I had a really bad headache and body aches and after that, I started having a really high fever -- went from 102 to 103 and up to 104," Bargatze said.

On April 10, he was admitted to the hospital where it went downhill quickly. He had to be intubated and the coronavirus was damaging his lungs. His mother had him flown to his native Atlanta where she lived. That's where Bargatze got bad news.

"They gave the choice saying, 'We could either get a double lung transplant, which is the only way you have to survive or we're going to make you comfortable enough so you can pass,'" Bargatze said.

Bargatze decided to fight.

"He couldn't get out of bed, he couldn't walk -- he could raise his fingers, basically," Nuclo said.

After making inquiries all over, Bargatze finally decided on the University of Maryland Medical Center since they had done two successful double lung transplants on COVID-19 patients.

"He was young, determined, willing to move to Baltimore," said Dr. Robert Reed, medical director for lung transplantation at University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Reed said they thought they could help Bargatze.

"His lungs looked awful. They looked like little chunks of liver. They didn't look like lungs at all, they were red, they were foggy. There was no saving those lungs," Reed said. "COVID-19 just destroyed them just chewed them up."

Bargatze got the transplant in June, went through rehab and is now living in Ellicott City with his mother while he recovers. He takes 50 pills a day.

"I just try to make the best of it. I'm here, I'm alive today and I'm thankful," he said.

Bargatze said the pills he'll take for the rest of his life, and his scar will forever remind him of what he went through.

"I would strongly encourage getting the vaccine to protect yourself and your family, and if you're against the vaccine, at least be courteous and wear a mask wherever you go. This isn't always about ourselves, it's about the people around us," Bargatze said.