Another COVID-19 horror story aims to sway the unvaccinated. Will it?

A Red Deer man who says it's a miracle he's still alive is sharing his story of survival after being hospitalized with COVID-19. 

Tracey Barclay hopes his cautionary tale of being unvaccinated against the disease will lead others away from making the same mistake.

"The ICU doctor came in and said I had two hours to live."

Late last month, Barclay's oxygen levels were dropping, he felt fatigued and had just been told by a Red Deer physician it would likely be his last night on earth.

"So we called in my mother to sit with me while I died," Barclay recalled.

The 51-year-old hadn't bothered to get vaccinated, thinking his type of multiple sclerosis would give him a "supercharged immune system" that would protect him from COVID-19.

"I figured I was good, but obviously I wasn't," Barclay told CTV News Edmonton. "It wasn't a very smart decision."

Barclay spent eight days in hospital after staff at his assisted-living facility called him an ambulance and urged him to get help. He had tested positive for COVID-19 three days earlier.

"They noticed I was in trouble. They noticed my oxygen was dropping," he said.

Flash forward to the night doctors told Barclay would probably be his last; he thought he was about to die, but still refused to be admitted into the ICU, refused to be put on a ventilator. Despite that, after being put on oxygen, Barclay pulled through.

"I was lucky. I got saved that night," he said. "I managed to make it through while 34 other unvaccinated people died that night in Alberta."

'WE NEED TO USE STORIES'

Barclay's story is not the first of its kind. Accounts of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths of loved ones who remained unvaccinated until the end have been popping up for some time now.

This week, Alberta Health Services featured Barclay in a video posted on social media intended to encourage unvaccinated holdouts to get the shot.

It's a public awareness strategy one health law and policy professor with the University of Alberta says has the potential to get through to the unvaccinated who are sitting on the fence.

"They can be very effective," Tim Caulfield told CTV News Edmonton on Friday. "They can also leverage the reality that if we see someone like us going through this tragedy it can have more resonance. It becomes relatable."

Caulfield said it's worth noting that those who push the anti-vaccine narrative tend to use a similar strategy.

The U of A professor referred to a website aimed at discouraging COVID-19 vaccinations by detailing alleged incidents of adverse reactions to vaccines.

"That kind of scary stuff can be very powerful, so we need to use stories," he said, "but let's do it in a more positive, constructive manner to get across the public health message that is really going to make a difference.

"We see these numbers every day," said Caulfield. "This pulls back the curtain and shows us what those numbers look like, what those numbers really mean and why this is such a devastating disease."

'IT'S LIKE TALKING TO A WALL SOMETIMES'

One non-ICU COVID-19 ward physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital told CTV News Edmonton stories of unvaccinated patients have been the predominant ones during the fourth wave of this pandemic.

"Usually people who choose not to get vaccinated, it's based on some sort of misinformation or some sort of narrative that they believed in their head that they don't need it," Dr. Neeja Bakshi said.

"It's like talking to a wall sometimes," she added.

Dr. Bakshi said while she does see some recovered unvaccinated COVID-19 patients change their minds about the vaccine, she isn't seeing that happen enough.

"They're really entrenched in their beliefs and it does make it challenging to care for them. Not from an ethical or moral perspective, but actually physically care for them.

"There's questions around, 'What medication are you giving me? Why are you giving me that medication? I don't believe in that medication. I don't believe in the ventilator,' and so it's really hard to push against that," she said.

Of the COVID-19 patients she and her colleagues treat, Dr. Bakshi said roughly half of them will admit they should get vaccinated once they recover.

"There's a fatigue amongst health-care workers about talking to these patients at this point," she said. "What I'm seeing and what I think a lot of my colleagues are seeing are people that aren't vaccine hesitant, they've just decided the vaccine wasn't for them."

And it's those people Barclay is hoping to reach.

"Get vaccinated," he said. "It could save your life."

Barclay says he's booked an appointment to get his COVID-19 vaccine. Time will tell how many others follow suit after hearing his story.

As of Thursday, there were 1,094 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Alberta, 248 of those in an ICU.

There have been over 2,800 COVID-19-related deaths in Alberta.  

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dan Grummett