NEPTUNE, N.J. (PIX11) – Gerald Branim is a marathon runner from a town outside of Nashville. He is as healthy as they come.

“Definitely very active lifestyle, running a lot,” said Branim. 

Branim could outrun maybe anyone. But he would have a world of trouble outrunning COVID-19.

“I had double COVID pneumonia,” said Branim. “I spent two weeks in the hospital, I was out of work for three months.”

He came down with COVID in 2021. However, it wasn’t until after initially beating COVID that doctors discovered his diaphragm was paralyzed due to damage to his phrenic nerve.

“The phrenic nerve is the nerve that supplies the electrical impulses from the brain to the diaphragm and that allows us to breathe,” said Dr. Matthew Kaufman of Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “It’s kind of like breathing with one lung.”

Kaufman helped create a treatment for the injury, performing the corrective surgery around 700 times, likely more than any other doctor in the world. Branim, searching for a way he could run again, found Dr. Kaufman in a Google search.

Branim came up to New Jersey and got the surgery last year and has recovered so well that he’s already completed five half marathons. This weekend, he’s flying back up again for the Runapalooza half marathon in Asbury Park. Kaufman will be running beside him.

“It’s sort of the ultimate in gratification of what’s really been a passion for me in my career to develop this, and see its fruition and to help patients like Gerald,” said Kaufman. “It will be very emotional for me for sure,” said Branim. “To be able to have my life back is going to be a great feeling for me, for sure.”