“Do you know what day it is?” asked Kody Pham, my ICU nurse.
“I have no idea,” I said.
“It’s New Year’s Eve,” Pham said.
-Bryan Pecherek, COVID-19 survivor
For Bryan Pecherek, it took a few days for those words to sink in. He had missed Christmas, but against all odds, he had somehow survived to see 2021.
Paramedics had rushed the avid runner, 55, to Grand View Hospital weeks before when his oxygen level plunged so slow, he could barely breathe. “They said I needed to be on a ventilator,” he says. “I gave a thumbs up and was immediately surrounded by people in hazmat suits. It was like the movie ‘Outbreak.’”
An anesthesiologist told him to count backwards from 10. “I didn’t make it to six,” Pecherek says.
It turns out, what he thought was a sinus infection was actually COVID-19. A ventilator kept Pecherek alive, but unconscious for 11 days. Nurses arranged for his wife, Jen, and sons to provide encouragement through FaceTime.
“Many neighbors and people from my church work at the hospital,” he says. “I learned they would come by at lunch, on breaks and before and after work to pray outside my window. The love and care everyone here gave me was just off-the-charts amazing.”
The first day after his breathing tube was removed, “just sitting in a chair was a challenge,” says Pecherek, who lost 50 pounds.
Unable to stand or walk, his recovery shifted to the hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation unit. Rigorous physical and occupational therapy sessions followed. “My first day, I walked like a toddler,” Pecherek says. “The team challenged me, promising I could leave the hospital and walk out like a man.” He did just that after nearly a month in the hospital.
Asked what he looked forward to most, he quickly answered, “Seeing my wife.” He and Jen will celebrate their 30th anniversary this year. They’d gone through long separations before when Pecherek was in the service, but this was different. “I miss her more than I ever have,” he says. “I think it’s because I value life a little differently now.”
Before he left the hospital, Pecherek was planning his return. An avid cook and baker, he was taking orders for cakes, his way of saying thanks to his friends at Grand View Health. “I just felt so safe in their hands,” he says. “There’s just so much love here.”