Doctor who treated over a hundred COVID-19 patients, signed dozens of death certificates has a message for you

It took the COVID-19 death of an unvaccinated close friend to prompt Dr. Dave Grygla to end his 18-month mental health break from social media.

But when he came back — even though he posted to his wife’s Facebook page — it was with a vengeance, and a clear message borne of the unnecessary heartache he has witnessed.

“GET VACCINATED. GET VACCINATED. Pick the best vaccine you can figure out and GET VACCINATED,” he wrote right off the top. Grygla threw in another “GET VACCINATED” further down in his 476-word post.

A hospitalist at a St. George hospital, he has cared for more than a hundred COVID-19 patients and signed dozens of death certificates.

Grygla is tired of people needlessly dying.

“It DOESN’T have to happen. And what about the family member who gave it to them. The one who got mild COVID-19 and survives??? The guilt is excruciating. How do I know? They tell me,” he wrote.

Rare is the case that patients don’t know how they contracted the virus, he said. It often happens at a family gathering, and those who passed it to a loved one who dies, suffer grief mixed with guilt mixed with regret, he said.

“It’s just horrible to watch,” he said in an interview.

Grygla himself suffered for three weeks from the virus last October before the vaccine came out. He got it from his wife. She got it from a neighbor.

Dr. David Grygla, left, hospitalist at a St. George hospital, and his wife, Julie, pose for a portrait at their home in St. George on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, with their children Jonathan, Emily, Brady, Abraham, Christian and Eliza. | Nick Adams, for the Deseret News

He said he doesn’t think people understand the proportion of the decisions they make regarding whether to get vaccinated. Getting the vaccine, which he calls a modern miracle, is a moral thing to do to protect your neighbor, he said.

“I just feel like people ought to know that the shot is not risky as they think it is. COVID is probably more dangerous to their friends and family than they think that it is. Since nobody’s masking and nobody’s social distancing, they should do the right thing and get the vaccine,” he said.

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Grygla said it’s time to call B.S. on people who say the vaccine is unsafe. He said he’s never personally taken care of a vaccine injury patient, but is aware of two. Both were treated, survived and went back to their lives. 

More than 95% of patients being treated for the coronavirus at the St. George hospital where he works are not vaccinated, he said.

And his patients are getting younger. Early in the pandemic, most were over 65. Now, three-quarters of those hospitalized are under 60. A healthy 39-year-old died a couple of weeks ago, Grygla said.

“People think that they’re at low risk of trouble and so they don’t get vaccinated. It’s a numbers game. A certain number of people have to get sick for one hospitalization to occur, and it’s definitely in the community. It’s definitely rampant right now,” he said.

The hospital is also seeing more bounce back cases where patients seemed like they were doing well only to take a turn for the worse. With the alpha variant, once people were over it, they were done. But the delta variant is not letting go, Grygla said.

There’s strong sentiment in the hospital that the current wave of COVID-19 didn’t have to happen, Grygla said. There’s even some bitterness about having to treat people, but doctors and nurses are mostly tired and sad, he said.

Many nurses have burned out and left for jobs outside a hospital, leaving others to care for more patients than they ought to, he said.

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Recently, an 82-year-old man who Grygla described as healthy as a horse and who played softball and would have died rock climbing at 105, succumbed to the virus after three weeks in the hospital. Nobody in the family, though, sees the need to get vaccinated, he said.

“He dies and the family goes on with life,” he said. “This is such a tragedy. This does not have to happen and the family did not learn any lessons.”

By now, he said, everyone has close knowledge of someone who has died of COVID-19. But hardly anyone knows some who had a reaction to the vaccine. If anything, people protected by vaccines might need boosters over time as the benefits wane, he said, comparing it to something you just don’t do once like filling your car with gas.

“I’m just a physician reporting his first person experience,” Grygla wrote. “Make your own choice, but if (when) you get severe COVID-19 or give it to someone who does poorly, dies or loses months of their lives to recovery, remember this: It didn’t have to be like this. It didn’t have to happen. GET VACCINATED.”

Dr. David Grygla, left, a hospitalist at a St. George hospital, and his wife, Julie, break out treats for their children, Jonathan, left, Emily, Brady, Abraham, Christian and Eliza, at their home in St. George on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. | Nick Adams, for the Deseret News