By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was an emotional reunion Friday at Penn Medicine. One of the first COVID-19 patients to survive treatment with a ventilator got to personally thank his medical team.

Celebrating recovery isn’t just for patients.

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“Thank you so much, really appreciate it,” Mike DeWan said.

“Nice to see a success story,” a nurse said.

DeWan thanked the medical team at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center that saved his life.

“You guys are really heroes, I mean, truly are,” DeWan said.

DeWan was the first COVID patient on a ventilator for 17 days to be released from Penn.

“I never thought in a million years something like this would have happened to me,” he said.

DeWan had the most severe case, but his whole family ended up with COVID.

“It was very scary, very lonely,” Kelly DeWan, his wife, said.

And for the medical team, the early days of COVID were filled with unknowns — not only putting their lives in jeopardy working but also not knowing how to treat the virus.

“It’s something I never could have even imagined,” Dr. William Short said.

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Penn was at the forefront of several clinical trials — one for the drug Remdesivir that was used experimentally on DeWan. Now, it’s approved to treat COVID.

“We’ve come such a long way over a year with the amount of research and science that has been done,” Short said, “so it does give me hope for moving forward into the future.”

“It’s amazing. This is amazing,” a nurse said.

Part of the ICU team that took care of DeWan saw him for the first time in a year. It’s been a tough journey for the medical teams, and the reward of seeing recovery is powerful.

“It’s just very emotional, seeing him so much better,” ICE nurse Kent Diep said.

For DeWan and his wife, there’s eternal gratitude for the masked strangers who gave them a future with their four daughters.

“You made a difference in our lives,” he said. “It’s a year later, and we can’t thank you guys enough.”

“To be able to come back and see some faces and say thank you really means a lot,” Kelly DeWan said.

And they brought thank you notes from their kids.

“It’s great to meet everybody and actually give them a proper thank you,” DeWan said.

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DeWan says he’s recovered with some lingering joint pain. He’s one of 9,000 COVID patients Penn has treated at its six hospitals.

Stephanie Stahl