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After 3 Months’ Hospitalization for Coronavirus, Recovery Goes On

It’s been three months since Kevin Anderson was released from rehab at Memorial Hospital in Belleville, but he said his stamina is low, his breathing is labored, and he has chronic shoulder pain, even after cortisone shots.

by Teri Maddox, Belleville, Ill., News-Democrat / August 4, 2020
AP

(TNS) -- Kevin Anderson knew his COVID-19 recovery wouldn’t be easy after spending more than a month in the hospital, including 15 days on a ventilator.

But the 61-year-old Fairview Heights man couldn’t have imagined all of the physical challenges he would face, let alone the social ones.

“Some people will give me an elbow bump and just keep walking,” he said. “They think that if I talk to them long enough, I’m going to give (the coronavirus) to them. You can’t blame them. They’re just not educated. They’re scared. People have told my grandson, ‘Don’t come over here to the house because your granddad had COVID.’”

Kevin was referring to Ramon Gates Jr., 8, who walks around the neighborhood with his grandfather every day, helping him to build strength.

It’s been three months since Kevin was released from rehab at Memorial Hospital in Belleville, but he said his stamina is still low, his breathing is labored, and he has chronic shoulder pain, even after cortisone shots. He takes blood thinner to prevent blood clots, which he had developed while lying in bed so long.

Kevin underwent surgery two weeks ago on his right hand, which had developed a condition similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. He’s going to have the same procedure done on his left hand this month.

“I couldn’t ball my fist up with my right hand or my left hand,” he said. “My wrist is swollen, and my ring finger is swollen. There’s nerve damage.”

Kevin also is scheduled for more testing to determine why his right lung doesn’t seem to be functioning properly, and he has mild chest pains from time to time.

Kevin isn’t sure when he’ll be able to return to his job as a youth care monitor at Hogan Street Regional Youth Center, a juvenile-detention facility in North St. Louis.

“I gotta get well,” he said. “I’m well, but I just have to get through these surgeries and figure out what’s wrong with my right lung. My lungs aren’t that bad, but I’m just tired, you know, breathing real hard. Like I tell people, I want to go back to work. I’m losing money. But at the same time, if I don’t do this now, I’m going to be a vegetable when I get 70 or 80.”

Wife is extra cautious

Kevin’s health problems also have had a big effect on his wife, Marilyn. She tested positive for COVID-19 when he was hospitalized and had to quarantine for two weeks, taking leave from her job as a Dilliard’s manager at The Galleria mall in St. Louis. Her symptoms were much less severe, mostly consisting of fatigue, chills and night sweats.

The worst part, Marilyn said, was not being able to see her husband for 35 days due to coronavirus-related visitor restrictions at the hospital. She also was separated from the rest of her family during quarantine.

The Andersons have three grown children, Jacques, April and Kevin Jr., and two grandchildren.

“When I hear the word ‘COVID,’ I kind of get teary-eyed because I know what I went through with my husband, and I had it, too,” said Marilyn, 58. “It was scary.”

Today, Marilyn worries about Kevin’s lingering symptoms, noting that he still can’t write or open a bottle because of his hand issues, and he often has trouble sleeping.

Marilyn knows that Kevin is bored, impatient and frustrated. He normally keeps busy working full time and doing chores around the house. He’s also active in the community, coaching sports, volunteering at church and raising money for charitable causes.

“Our faith is in God, and we’ve got family behind us,” Marilyn said. “I tell people all the time, ‘We’ll make it through. We made it through the worst part.’”

Infectious-disease specialists are still trying to determine if former COVID-19 patients are immune from contracting the coronavirus again and how long that immunity might last, but Marilyn isn’t taking any chances. She wears a face covering, goggles and rubber gloves at work.

Marilyn occasionally goes to the grocery store or pharmacy, where she’s adamant about social distancing. One day in Walgreens, she noticed that a man in line behind her was ignoring floor markers that show people where to stand 6 feet apart.

“I said, ‘Excuse me, I don’t mean any harm, but could you step back?’” she said. “He looked at me like I was crazy. But you can’t be too careful. You have to do what they tell you to do. I’ve seen what this has done to my husband. I don’t take it lightly. This stuff is real.”

From patient to consultant

Kevin’s ordeal began on March 27, when a splitting headache, chills and 104-degree temperature sent him to Anderson Hospital ExpressCare Center in Collinsville and then on to the emergency room at Memorial.

Kevin assumes he contracted the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, at work. On March 24, the Missouri Division of Youth Services reported that a young resident at the Hogan facility had tested positive.

Kevin has two underlying health conditions, diabetes and high blood pressure, that are known to make people more vulnerable to COVID-19.

At the hospital, Kevin was put on a ventilator because of dangerously low oxygen levels. He spent time in rehab before being released on May 1.

“I had to learn how to swallow again,” he said. “I had to learn how to walk again.”

Kevin became something of a local celebrity on May 14, when KSDK-TV Channel 5 in St. Louis told his story in a news segment. He wiped away tears talking about the health-care workers who put their “lives on the line” to save his life.

Kevin weighed about 270 pounds before falling ill with COVID-19. He said he dropped 70 pounds during his hospitalization.

Kevin has been trying to use his time off work in a productive way. He made a poster with coronavirus tips that he’s been handing out, and he has raised money for books to give East St. Louis schoolchildren who may not have resources needed for remote learning. He’s forming a nonprofit foundation for his charitable activities.

Kevin gets multiple calls each day from health professionals, school officials and others, asking for his take on coronavirus-related issues.

“I feel better,” he said. “God has been good to me.”

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©2020 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)

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