Justin Weber holds a dubious honor – he was the first COVID-19 positive patient at UnityPoint Health – Allen Hospital.
While that’s not really something to celebrate, his recovery to this point certainly is. It felt like a party when he was transferred from Allen Hospital’s respiratory illness unit to the general rehabilitation floor. That move came after a frightening trip to the emergency department, multiple stints in the intensive care unit, a need for life support from a ventilator and a hospital stay that has stretched across three separate months.
Weber’s request was to celebrate the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and everyone else involved in his care. It turned into a celebration of the journey he is on, the trauma he has overcome and his life that lies ahead.
“The staff here has been unbelievably loving. Patient. Forgiving. Graceful. Encouraging,” Weber said from his hospital bed. “They have become my family.”
The Eldora native went more than a month without seeing his immediate family due to visitor restrictions in place to curtail the spread of infection. The last time he saw his wife in person was when he was first treated at the Grundy County Memorial Hospital emergency department.
At that point, Weber had already tested positive for COVID-19 a few days earlier. While isolating at home, his condition severely declined.
Immediate testing in the emergency department indicated the oxygen saturation of his blood was at 70 percent – a normal result is usually between 95-100 percent.
A chest x-ray revealed significant pneumonia present. Put it all together and Weber needed breathing assistance immediately, so he was intubated and put on a ventilator at the direction of GCMH emergency physician Dr. Keith Ruffcorn.
“Coronavirus was relatively new at the time, so I had just been reading guidance for intubation. Everything indicated he should be on a ventilator, and it was his best chance for survival,” Dr. Ruffcorn said. “That didn’t come without some challenges, and any complications while intubating with oxygen saturation that low could have led to cardiac arrest.”
Weber isn't shy to tell you that Dr. Ruffcorn's action saved his life. And it was just the first in a series of life-saving measures from his care team following his emergent transfer to the Allen Hospital ICU.
Weber was removed from the ventilator for a short time before making a return trip to the ICU. He spent time on Allen Hospital’s dedicated respiratory unit alongside other patients being treated for COVID-19 who recovered and were discharged.
Simply put, the response to the virus took a heavy toll on his lungs. The mucus his body produced to combat the disease caused its own unique issues. One result was an inability to swallow, and a feeding tube was inserted to ensure his body received adequate nutrients.
On the day of his transfer to the rehabilitation unit, Weber was able to walk about 30 feet on his own, which he called great progress.
“Looking back, I’ve lost over a month of my life,” Weber said. “I also gained much more than a month of my life back, and for that I am dang fortunate.”
Add it up, and it equals 35 days of medical treatment in the hospital, including 11 total days in the ICU.
Following two COVID-19 tests that came back negative, Weber’s move to rehab was a significant step. It’s expected to take a couple more weeks before he is well enough to return home, where an even bigger celebration is likely waiting.
To learn more about COVID-19 and how to stay safe, visit unitypoint.org/coronavirus.