Auckland dad's heartwarming reunion with family after three-week COVID battle

"I am going to re-join my pride, my lions and let's hope."

And with those words, Auckland dad Geoff Muliaga Brown walked back into his own lounge room, released from the custody of COVID-19.

He is finally allowed to be with his partner and three children.

For the past three and a half weeks Geoff has been in self-isolation and hospital, battling to get tested and battling the virus.

There's no proof but Geoff believes it may have started 4 weeks ago when he and a friend co-hosted a fiafia night at his daughter's school, Marist Girls College in Mt Albert. The school has since become New Zealand's equal largest cluster of more than 90 COVID-19 cases. To this day it does not know how COVID-19 got into the school.

It was March 14 and the Prime Minister was revealing the new 4 level COVID-19 alert system.

Mass gatherings were still okay and Geoff says there were hundreds of people at the fundraiser.

"We didn't think anything of it, we just went up there and ran the event really."

One week later Geoff fell ill and decided to self isolate in the bathroom.

"I had a tea towel around my face. I didn't have a mask and I said to my wife don't come back. Don't bring the kids in," he said.

"I had a mattress, one blanket, a couple of pillows, a bottle of water and I got  a lemon and put that in a jar so I could have some lemon water."  

At the same time, Geoff said rumours were swirling in the Marist College community about a teacher being tested. Then Geoff learned a college student had actually tested positive so he decided to drive himself to the newly-opened St Lukes coronavirus testing centre.

"The nurse looked at me and said 'You don't meet the criteria, because you haven't travelled overseas. I think you should just go home and just monitor yourself'."

That night, March 22, Marist College confirmed its first case and his co-host at the fiafia fundraiser, DJ Sela Alo, also fell sick.

Geoff's condition also deteriorated.

"I couldn't smell. I lost the sense of smell and taste. And, you know, my family's everything. And if I'm not there for them, then, you know, I'm no good to anybody. And that's why I decided to go a second time.

Geoff went back to St Luke's testing centre and was seen by the same person.

"She said, 'You don't seem that severe'. And I was dumbfounded. I thought, wow you know, I'm in pain. I've been bedridden for four days."

Geoff went home but decided to ring Healthline and was told that he should go back to the St Luke's testing centre again. 

He refused and instead drove 14 kilometres to another testing centre in Mangere, South Auckland where he was finally tested for COVID-19.

The next day his condition got worse. Geoff rang  Healthline again and was sent to Auckland hospital, where a nurse in full protective equipment wheeled him for tests.

Geoff was x-rayed, tested again for COVID-19 and put in a negative pressure room. Doctors said if he didn't improve, his lungs may have to be drained.

"I got quite emotional because I thought, man, I don't know what I've got. I've been tested. I can't breathe. And, you know,  everything that goes through your mind, your family, the kids, my you know, my brothers and sisters, dad."

Geoff says he sat up and said a prayer and then the COVID tests came back. The first from the Mangere centre was negative. The second, done in a hospital, was positive.

"I was sitting in hospital thinking I could have died. I could have died. And I get emotional because you think like, well, you know, we just take life for granted and people are dying.

That's when Geoff decided to make his struggle public by posting his experience in a video on Facebook. 

"I am not happy, not happy with the process and how difficult it was to get help, " he said. The video took off.

"I thought there are people dying and we're turning people away from getting tested, you know? 

The testing criteria for COVID-19 has since been widened. 

The Ministry of Health told Newshub Nation that New Zealand now has one of the broadest suspect case definitions in the world. 

Geoff has been discharged but was still isolated from his family until April 15.

For three and a half weeks he fought a virus and the health system in isolation from his family.

Now he's out, he has one message.

"Stay safe, and always wear a mask. You are helping others. Stay blessed, see you later."