“It started with a cold that got bad real fast,” says 59-year-old COVID-19 survivor Jimmy Blaser, as he describes the beginning of his experience with the coronavirus pandemic. Blaser and his family reside in Lamont, Okla., about 45 minutes northeast of Enid.
Jimmy explains that the story begins with his wife Sabrina’s 95-year-old grandfather being hospitalized in Oklahoma City and later returning home where family members were at his side until he passed away on March 16. At the funeral a few days later, Sabrina’s Uncle Richard (the grandfather’s son) was not feeling well and was presumed to have COVID-19. He was advised to recover at home, which he did. Later that month, Jimmy began to feel bad but assumed it was just a cold.
On April 1, the Blaser family learned that Sabrina’s mother was hospitalized in Ponca City with a COVID-19 diagnosis after she was experiencing a cough and shortness of breath. She was hospitalized for eight days and then released after recovering. It was around this time that Jimmy’s cold symptoms progressed and he was in a lot of pain. Sabrina had watched her husband try to tough it out and finally convinced him he needed to go to the hospital.
The morning of April 6, Sabrina drove Jimmy to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Enid. Due to the no visitation policy, she had to drop him off at the ER entrance. “I gave Jimmy the insurance card. ER staff put him in a wheelchair and took him into the hospital. That is the last time I saw him,” she explains. Nursing staff and physicians understand how difficult it is for loved ones to be separated during this pandemic so they helped the couple communicate when Jimmy’s health permitted, via cell phones and FaceTime.
Jimmy was admitted to the isolation unit in the hospital that cares for presumed positive and positive COVID-19 patients. His condition worsened and that evening Jimmy was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) for more intensive care. “Jimmy’s nurse called me and said that he was oxygen deprived and they would be closely monitoring him in the ICU,” says Sabrina. The next night Jimmy was placed on a ventilator. “The nurse tried to prepare me for the worst by saying, ‘We’re just going to take this an hour at a time.’ She reassured me that Jimmy was resting well. They took really tender care of that big boy!”
For the next three weeks Jimmy was on the ventilator in ICU to help with his oxygenation. He had tube feedings for nutrition and his care was closely monitored by the hospitalist team and pulmonologist. His condition was critical when he suddenly turned the corner and his health started improving. After his ventilator was removed, two negative COVID-19 tests were required before Jimmy could be moved from isolation. While in ICU, Jimmy started working with physical therapy to help regain his strength before being moved to the hospital’s inpatient Rehabilitation Institute where he received personalized physical therapy care.
Jimmy says he doesn’t remember a lot of what happened while in the ICU; however, he says there are no words to describe how thankful he is for the care he’s received at St. Mary’s. “All the nurses are really great,” he says. Sabrina says she is grateful for the support she’s received from the church and community during this time which have helped her tremendously. “It’s been difficult not being able to be with him through this,” she explains. “I’m just looking forward to bringing him home.”