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'I've been waiting for this day': Valley DJ turned barber who fought tough battle with COVID returns to his shop

Elias Medina was admitted to the hospital with COVID nearly one year ago, after months in the hospital and rehab, he's back to doing what he loves.

PHOENIX — In a studio barbershop in a downtown Phoenix building off of 1st Avenue, the open sign is illuminated as Elias Medina starts to trim the first of several clients’ hair.

Medina and Gabe Sanchez don’t even talk about how Gabe would like his hair cut on this Friday. Medina just knows.

“I always joke around, but finding a good barber is almost like finding a good wife, you know?" Sanchez said. "They know exactly how to cut your hair without even saying anything."

Medina and Sanchez chat back and forth as Medina switches between clippers, adjusting them, and continuing his focused work.

At one point, Medina noticed from feet away something he wanted to change on Sanchez’s left side.

“Those little details go a long way,” Medina said

Sanchez said Medina is his third barber in his entire life. He’s been getting his hair cut the same way since he was 18.

“Man, this guy is really particular about his hair,” Medina said. “He went months and months and months without getting his hair cut.”

Instead, Medina spent months focused on different details.

“As long as I wake up, I could stand up, you know – breathing,” Medina said. “That’s all I care about.”

Those things were not possible almost a year ago.

“I woke up in the hospital and with tubes in my mouth. I couldn't talk, feel, move, anything. I was just helpless in every way,” Medina said.

Last July, Medina got a severe case of COVID-19 that landed him in a coma and on a ventilator in the ICU.

12News first told Medina’s story in September, when we met him in a rehab facility.

“I wish I could just stand up,” Medina said in September 2021. “To me, it’s a privilege and I can’t even do that – yet.”

RELATED: 'It's real, I found out the hard way': Longtime Valley DJ, barbershop owner recovering after tough COVID-19 battle

Medina wasn’t vaccinated when he got COVID in July 2021. While he had to wait to get his vaccine because of how sick he got, Medina got his shots, and just recently became eligible for the booster. He plans to get that soon.

Medina said he kept going for his kids, for his wife, Stephanie, and to move beyond the illness that took so many months of his life.

“I just want to be able to be alive and cognitive of seeing my kids,” he said. “Watching them get married, graduate. Just being there.”

Medina wanted those September moments to look different, for him to feel different and even for an interview to be different.

“I’ve been waiting for this day,” Medina said.

So Friday marks day one of several clients coming to his downtown barbershop chair.

“It was a ghost town for the past year and a half, but it’s still here,” Medina said.

While Medina still has more recovery to do, he remains grateful for the little things.

“I want to take full advantage of this second chance. All I can,” Medina said.

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