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Ken White of New Lenox retired from one job only to find himself smack into another.
White recently spent 65 days at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. He came home June 12 to a “welcome home” parade consisting of nearly 100 cars filled with loved ones.
And then he returned to Silver Cross on June 16 for gall bladder surgery.
But White is still also recovering form COVID-19. He’s relearning to speak and swallow, as well as walk.
That’s because went from 180 to 134 pounds, although White said he has gained about five pounds of it back.
“I was on the ventilator for three weeks and then I didn’t move for, like, a week after that,” White said. “So all the muscles are atrophied.”
He also had eight toes amputated, all due to COVID-19.
“It’s a little wobbly; I do have to get used to my balance a bit,” Ken said. “But I don’t have to trim my toes anymore; that’s one good thing.”
He’s now able to swallow, so he can safely eat “real” food with worrying about aspiration.
“I didn’t eat anything for over three months, or drink water either, only ice chips,” White said.
He has in-home therapy, at least five doctors he’s seeing – last week was “doctor week” – White said. In addition to his primary care physician, White is also seeing a pulmonologist, cardiologist, hematologist and podiatrist.
“The breathing is getting better,” Ken said. “I’m not on any oxygen, which is good.”
Recovery, he said, is a full-time job.
“When I first started in rehab, it was a struggle because I could not move my legs at first,” Ken said. “It was like starting from scratch because it was everything: not walking or using my arms or swallowing or talking.”
White said he retired on April 1, the same day he started feeling sick. On April 5, his wife Peggy White, who was also sick, took him to Silver Cross’ emergency department because he was so weak.
At the time, Peggy wasn’t thinking COVID-19. In fact, Peggy hesitated taking Ken to the hospital.
"I was afraid he'd get the corona going into the emergency room," Peggy said.
Ken’s daughter Julie Furry of Indiana, a paramedic, said her father was initially diagnosed with viral pneumonia, so a decision was made to keep him overnight.
“Then his covid test came back positive,” Furry said. “At first they thought, ‘He’s doing OK; we’ll just keep him a couple of days and then he’ll come home, on some supplemental oxygen, to recover.' On April 9, he just went extremely downhill. And that day, they put him on the ventilator."
Although Peggy also had COVID-19, she was "still functioning" and recovered at home with the help of relatives, friends and neighbors, she said.
"They checked on me every day," Peggy said, "It was unbelievable. They cooked my meals and shopped for me."
Although Peggy was told to rest, she felt so worried for Ken that she only rested at night.
"I was afraid if I lay down and wallowed in it, I might give into depressions," Peggy said. "So I would not lay down during the day."
Eventually Peggy asked Furry to call the hospital for updates. Ken would improve and then decline, and Peggy said she felt Julie could best manage the flow of information of Ken's "one step forward, two steps back" progress.
Furry said Ken had some bleeding issues and had a transfusion. Then he had clotting issues, which led to the amputation of eight toes. He developed an irregular heartbeat (“He was in A-fib for a couple of days,” Furry said), and Ken had trouble being weaned off the ventilator.
“After nine or 10 days, they tried taking him off it, but he was not tolerating it,” Furry said. “They tried almost every day but as soon as they took him off of it, he started having complications…they were quite concerned about the possibly that they would not be able to get him off it. And then one day, out of the blue, Dad went off the vent.”
Ken doesn’t remember much of that time and for about a week after that. But he does remember the great care he received from the nurses and the great care he’s currently receiving from Elara Home Health.
And Ken said he can’t stress that enough.
“They were fantastic,” Ken said. “I would not be here today without them."
Peggy said she was unsure what to expect when Ken did come home.
"I had absolutely no idea what he'd be able to do," Peggy said. "But he really, really amazed me at what he could accomplish for himself. It just gets easier. Every day he does more and more stuff for himself."
Ken’s gall bladder also failed that first week he was sick. He had no symptoms. Was it a coincidence? Part of the virus? Doctors didn’t know, he said.
“But they wanted me to get stronger before I had surgery,” Ken said.
Thankfully that was done laparoscopically with only an overnight stay. Pain was minimal, a little soreness around his middle, he said.
“I know it’s going to be a long road to get back to normal,” Ken said. “But I’m on my way there.”
Any plans for the summer?
“Stay away from people,” Ken joked.
All kidding aside, Ken’s plans are to recover and spend time with his family. His long-term plans include taking some road trips with Peggy, especially to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, one of their favorite spots.
He and Peggy had traveled to Paris and London at the end of February. They had left on a full plane. They returned on a plane with about 30 passengers, Ken said.
"A lot of flights were canceled because of the coronavirus," Ken said. "Heathrow Airport in London was empty," Ken said.
For more local news, visit The Herald-News at https://www.theherald-news.com.