While driving on other calls, Bobby Colin has passed by Jon Brones' home many times since last fall and wondered how the Marshalltown man was doing. Or if he even survived.
On a sunny summer day nearly a year later, he finally got his answer.
Brones, who nearly died from COVID-19, was reunited with the UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown ambulance service team that saved his life. In a conversation that often grew emotional, he asked questions about that night and expressed his gratitude for the group’s life-saving work.
"I wanted to thank you guys for what you did to help me that day," a tearful Brones told a roomful that included Colin, Steven Sinnwell and Shayne Turner, as well as their regional manager Nick Heintz. "You probably do that every day and it's probably no big deal to you, but it was a big deal to me."
Brones has one amazing story to share – at least the parts he remembers. He remembers going to bed the night of August 27, 2021. The next thing he can recall is waking up in an ICU in Ames. It was now September 27. Thirty-one days had passed.
"I told people, 'No, it's August,'" Brones retells. "So, my girlfriend took a picture of me and a beard that I didn't have before and showed it to me."
Brones' girlfriend, Phillis Booth, played a huge role in his story. When she found him unresponsive, she called 911, which summoned the UnityPoint Health ambulance from Marshalltown. Then she visited Brones every day he was in the hospital, held his hand and talked to him.
Brones was alert when the ambulance got to his home, but he doesn't remember it. The first-responders found him with a dangerously low oxygen level in the 40s. He initially didn't want to go, but the team convinced him otherwise. So, they quickly transported him to the emergency department in Marshalltown, where an ER team got him stabilized. Fortunately – and frankly surprisingly, considering it was fall 2021 – there was a bed available at a nearby hospital, so the ambulance service rushed him there.
"I'm glad they drove 80 instead of 75, because it sounds like I didn’t have 5 minutes to play with," Brones reasons now.
One provider told him his oxygen level was at 40 when he arrived, and they couldn't find a pulse. Near the end of his stay, another doctor told Brones how special he was to survive.
"He said, 'I only had one other patient other than you who walked out of here'," Brones says. "So, like a dummy, I asked him what happened to the rest of them. Where did they go? He said, 'They died.'"
Brones saw many others struggling with COVID-19 and most didn't make it, including another man from Marshalltown who lasted 13 days before succumbing.
"He was much younger, bigger and stronger than I am," Brones says. "I asked them what causes me to make it when that guy didn't, and they said my will to live was strong."
All told, Brones spent 49 days in the hospital, including 31 in the ICU. When he finally woke up, he could barely utter a whisper. Along the way, he contracted pneumonia and was tested for brain damage. His family was even prepared by the hospital in the event of his imminent death.
"We had gone on a 3,000-mile motorcycle trip with friends just before the whole thing," Brones says. "My girlfriend was vaccinated and nobody else was, and she's the only one who didn't get sick. It kind of made a believer of me that I should've gotten vaccinated."
It's been a slow but steady recovery since his discharge. Brones was on oxygen until the middle of February, he had to use a walker for a while and his stamina hadn't fully returned nine months later. However, he's moving reasonably well on his own and recently returned to full-time work.
That made it a great time to stop by the new UnityPoint Health hospital and enjoy a reunion with the EMS team that came to his rescue in August.
"It's not very often that this happens where people actually come back and thank us for what we did," said Colin, an EMT who drove the ambulance that took Brones to the ER in Marshalltown. "It makes the job worth it."
"That’s true, it's not something you hear every day," echoed Turner, a clinical care attendant who was with Brones in the back of that ambulance ride. "It's rewarding. I mean, it's nice just to be able to go out and make a difference any way you can."
"You can't believe how thankful I am for you guys," Brones summed up in front of the ambulance team while fighting back tears. "You're all responsible for me being here today."
"We understand people do feel thankful for what we do and don't necessarily take the time to come back and tell us," said Sinnwell, the paramedic who rushed Brones to the hospital. "We don’t expect them to, but it's very nice when they do."
Photo caption: Jon Brones flanked (left to right) by Shayne Turner, Bobby Colin and Steven Sinnwell of UnityPoint Health.