Henry Karpik was among the first victims of COVID in Australia, and the first in the Illawarra to be put in intensive care.
More than a year on, COVID affects him every day.
"It took five or six months to be able to walk on my own," he said. "I still have trouble breathing. I can't make a fist with my hand because it hurts my joints. I've been told it may take three years for my nerves and muscles to be back to normal."
Mr Karpik and his wife, along with a group of friends, embarked on the ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise early in 2020. The trip around New Zealand was cut short due to border closures. By the time the ship returned to Australia every one of the friends had COVID.
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"I could barely walk, I had a high temperature, I was very fatigued," he said. "I couldn't even carry our bags into the house."
Two days later he was taken to Wollongong Hospital by ambulance. His last memory is of being wheeled past the emergency sign. He wouldn't wake again for four weeks. Despite being in intensive care, Mr Karpik's systems were failing.
His wife, also sick and in isolation, was told to organise a priest for his last rites, and make arrangements for his funeral. It was a dark time for the family - and it's why they've thrown their support behind the #vaxtheillawarra campaign.
"The stress on the family is unbelievable," Mr Karpik said. "When you listen to the 11am press conference, all those people in ICU have gone through what we went through. If you get vaccinated, you can save your family that stress."
Mr Karpik said the first thing he remembers when he woke up was a nurse sponging his head and telling him how lucky he was. He had no idea how long he had been out for, and he certainly didn't feel lucky at first.
"I felt like I was chained to the bed," he said. "I thought it had only been a day or two, but I was on life support for four weeks. I had lost all my muscular strength."
After another two weeks in intensive care Mr Karpik was moved onto a ward. Then, from May to September, he began a rigorous rehabilitation program.
The vaccine is safe, it minimises your risk of getting sick, of ending up in hospital, of going to the ICU, of dying.
Before he got sick, Mr Karpik went to the gym twice a week, and enjoyed long walks and playing golf. At the start of his rehabilitation program he needed a walker to stand.
A year on, he doesn't know how long it will be before he's at full health, but he's thankful to be here - and thankful a vaccine means people can protect themselves from suffering as he and his family did.
"I know what it's like and I know what it can do to you," the former detective said. "People who are worried about the vaccine need to see the people in ICU struggling to breathe, struggling to walk.
"The vaccine is safe, it minimises your risk of getting sick, of ending up in hospital, of going to the ICU, of dying. It protects your friends and family, because you are far less likely to spread it to them. The sooner we all get it the sooner we can live a normal life again."
There's been 447 COVID cases in the Illawarra Shoalhaven since the start of the pandemic - 128 were acquired overseas. Almost 528,000 residents have been tested. Since June, when this current outbreak started, there's been 280 cases in the region. On Friday, 211 of these remained active cases - with six being cared for in Wollongong Hospital.
Rebecca Boniface contracted COVID recently after her partner was exposed to the virus at work. She says she's thankful she had a milder case than others, like Mr Karpik, but 12 days later is yet to shake a persistent cough and feeling of fatigue.
On her first day of symptoms she experienced a fever, chills, sweats, headache and body aches. While cold and flu tablets helped, she continued to feel fatigued and run down over the next few days. On the third day she was halfway through a packet of chips when she realised she couldn't taste them.
She had her first vaccine just days before contracting the virus, before it could offer any protection. Ms Boniface said she is grateful to the nurses who have checked in on her virtually every day.
She says people shouldn't think they can rely on masks and social distancing to protect them from the virus, especially when things open up.
"I was lucky I had a very mild case, and everybody is different. We did everything right, masks, QR codes, it's just one of those things you couldn't help."