'I couldn't breathe': MAD DADS presidents shares COVID-19 battle

A longtime community advocate in Minneapolis is opening up about his battle with the coronavirus to encourage others to take precautions amid the pandemic.

V.J. Smith, the national president of MAD DADS and the head of the Minneapolis chapter, was hospitalized for about five days at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Smith says doctors determined he was suffering from COVID-19 and double pneumonia.

“I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t hardly talk,” said Smith.

Friday night, doctors released him from the hospital so he could continue his treatment and recovery at home. 

“I’m a big guy, so I’m not used to being weak, but I was so weak I could barely get around and all I could do was lay down,” said Smith.

VJ Smith in hospital

National President of MAD DADS VJ Smith gives an update on his condition on Facebook Live while hospitalized for COVID-19. (VJ Smith)

The virus sidelined a strong voice against violence in Minneapolis. Since 1998, Smith has worked on youth outreach and crime prevention. But even in sickness, MAD DADS members said he stayed connected.

“Encouraging to me to see him still be laying there in his bed, still trying to do what he does with MAD DADS you know,” said Wallace White, a MAD DADS member.

Now, the community Smith dedicated himself to for decades is returning the support through a wave of well wishes and stuffed animals.

“People were calling me saying, ‘Thank you uncle, thank you dad, thank you for all you did for my life. I appreciate what you’ve done. You got to make it,’” said Smith.

Still hoarse, Smith says he has a new mission for his voice.

“It was a situation where I understood if I make it through this, if I get through this then I’m going to make sure I’m a champion for coronavirus,” he said.

He said he plans to use his experience to inspire others to take the pandemic seriously.

“I can’t wait to be 100 percent,” said Smith. “I got so much work to do for the world.”