BARRIE -- A Barrie man who beat the odds and emerged from a three-month hospitalization for COVID-19 feels he's getting a second chance at life.

Brian Gillespie tested positive in early February.

On Feb. 11, struggling to breathe and wearing a bathrobe, he walked to an ambulance outside his home. He wouldn't return until winter had melted into spring. This time he was more than 60 pounds lighter and leaning on a walker.

Brian and his family endured what they describe as a "rollercoaster of hope" over the months he spent inside the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH).

"I've always relied heavily on being a physical person. And having that taken away from me is very debilitating," Brian told CTV News from his yard on Monday.

His hands swelled up like baseball mitts, and basic bodily functions seemed impossible.

"The effort of trying to breathe was devastating. Every breath you had to think about, forcing it in and out."

After being intubated and placed on a ventilator, Brian fell into a 45-day-long coma. His lungs collapsed several times. His heart stopped.

"Mar. 5, he had a cardiac arrest," said wife Jill Gillespie. "We were basically called in to say goodbye, my daughter and I. And we went into the bedside, and that was really frightening."

But Brian pulled through. Dozens of nurses and doctors lined a hallway at RVH as he was wheeled out. Brian says a staff member told him he was a mascot for a team that doesn't get many wins.

"The guy said, 'you had a very slim chance of surviving. And I'm here. And I'm so thankful for it."

The experience has illuminated what's most important, and Brian is now resolved to prioritize spending time with friends and family.

"Not many people get a second chance, and I'm going to take advantage of that."

Dozens of the Gillespies' friends and family members cheered his arrival home with balloons and homemade signs.

They have been tracking his journey through frank posts to a Facebook group. Jill shared in the hope of generating some positive viral spread.

"If I could let people know what was happening to us, then it would spread. To them, to their friends, to their family, to their coworkers," Jill said.

She was heartened to see loved ones change their approach to physical distancing and masking.

Brian is also trying to change minds, taking aim at people who don't take the virus seriously, standing against COVID-19 restrictions.

"It really drives me up the wall. They have no clue of what's coming for them. And I can tell you from first-hand experience; it is not something that anybody wants."

Brian describes being moved twice within RVH to make room for a wave of more COVID-positive patients.

"Unless people get their shots, wear the proper precautions, it won't go away for some time. Lockdowns are going to continue, so smarten up, guys."