CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus 'doesn't discriminate,' says St. Luke's patient after 35-day hospital stay

'I didn't stand a chance against it'

Chad Edmonds of Cedar Rapids raises a fist in the air as he's discharged from St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Fri
Chad Edmonds of Cedar Rapids raises a fist in the air as he’s discharged from St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Friday, May 1, 2020. Edmonds, 44, was in the hospital for 35 days as of Thursday following his coronavirus diagnosis. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Every theory Chad Edmonds has heard about COVID-19 has been proven wrong, based on his recent experience.

In fact, he never expected to be laid so low by the virus.

The otherwise healthy 44-year-old was discharged on Friday after a 35-day stay at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital — which included 15 days on a ventilator, fighting for his life.

“That virus, it doesn’t discriminate by any means,” Edmonds told The Gazette after his release from the hospital. “They say it attacks old people and people with underlying health conditions.

“I didn’t have any health issues before I got sick and I didn’t stand a chance against it.”

Edmonds is not the first coronavirus patient discharged from St. Luke’s, but his monthlong stay is among the longest the hospital has seen. Most COVID-19 admissions have a length of stay around 15 to 20 days, while the average length of stay for a critical care illness in the hospital is seven to 10 days.

Hospital officials did note, however, that there are a couple patients within St. Luke’s whose stays may surpass the 40-day mark.

“Mr. Edmonds length of stay reflects the nature of the COVID-19 illness, with extending need for mechanical ventilation. It cannot go unrecognized, Mr. Edmond’s strength of character and determination contributed immensely to his recovery,” said Dr. Dustin Arnold, chief medical officer at UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids.

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Edmonds’s discharge from the hospital on Friday — which was marked with dozens of waiving hospital staff and a motorcycle parade to escort him home — occurred on the same day Gov. Kim Reynolds began easing coronavirus-related restrictions in 77 counties across the state.

State public health officials confirmed more than 700 new COVID-19 cases in Iowa on Friday.

“I think it’s too early” to reopen the state, Edmonds said, adding that he assumes there will be more people hospitalized because of the governor’s decision.

“I don’t think people’s lives have changed that much,” the Cedar Rapids resident continued. “There are some things people would like to do, but if I could get curbside service at Texas Roadhouse, why do I really need to eat it inside?”

While he’s grateful for the support he received during his long hospital stay, Edmonds admits he’s “a little scared to go back out there.”

“The way people are acting about it, it’s frustrating,” he said. “They seem like they don’t care. There are some people doing what they can, wearing masks and things like that, but then there are people who aren’t wearing masks.”

‘It was spreading so fast’

Edmonds said he can’t pinpoint how he got infected with the novel coronavirus, which has been contracted by thousands across the state. What started as a slight cough for him in mid-March soon led to a spike in temperature and other respiratory symptoms, prompting Edmonds to go to urgent care.

Doctors initially thought he had influenza, but he tested negative for both A and B types, and was sent home with an inhaler and instructions to let the illness run its course.

But Edmonds’s symptoms continued to worsen. When he went to the emergency room, they admitted him immediately into the hospital and put his family into quarantine.

He said by the time he had been at the hospital for 24 hours, his oxygen level was dangerously low.

“The doctor came in and showed me scans of my lungs from 24 hours ago to where they were now, and they were totally different,” Edmonds said. “You could just tell it was spreading so fast.

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“That’s when they told me they were going to have to put me on a ventilator,” he said.

Edmonds became emotional recounting this experience. By this time, he was isolated on the hospital’s COVID-19 floor, with his family unable to visit due to hospital restrictions.

“That’s a hard call, to call your wife at 1:30 in the morning,” Edmonds said.

On March 28, about a day and a half after he was admitted, he was sedated and placed on a life-support machine for 15 days.

Debbie Edmonds, Chad Edmonds’s mother, described watching her son’s ordeal as a “nightmare.” Aside from one FaceTime conversation while he was in the emergency department, she didn’t have the chance to speak with her son before he was placed on a ventilator.

Edmonds, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, is her only child.

“It was really, really scary,” Debbie Edmonds recalled. “... So many times, I wish I had been up there instead of him. Any day I would have taken his place.”

He was taken off the ventilator on April 12, on Easter Sunday — an experience of which he doesn’t remember much.

“I was so weak, I couldn’t even move at that time,” he said.

He eventually was moved from the Intensive Care Unit to the general COVID-19 floor, where he stayed for 13 days before he was moved to St. Luke’s in-patient rehabilitation.

There, he spent the next six days working on regaining fine motor skills — “things you don’t expect to lose” during the course of an illness, he said.

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Once he began feeling better, he was able to speak with members of his family through FaceTime, with the help of a nurse.

“It’s not the same, but at least you could see him. That feels a whole lot better than not seeing him at all,” Debbie Edmonds said.

Other members of his family had vastly different experiences with the novel coronavirus. His 15-year-old daughter, who started showing symptoms around the same time Edmonds did, lost her sense of taste and smell for two weeks.

Edmonds’s 67-year-old mother-in-law, who has underlying health conditions, was in the hospital at the same time he was on a ventilator. She was able to recover after five days receiving oxygen.

“Everyone has these theories, but for every theory, I’ve heard a story that has proved that theory wrong,” he said.

On Friday after he was released from the hospital, Edmonds spent the day sitting on his back patio, eating pizza and talking with family. Edmonds will be off work for the next several weeks, and beyond his physical therapy appointments, he plans to continue social distancing and try to keep himself as healthy as possible.

“I’m staying home for the most part,” he said. “I have no desire to go out and about too much. I went through that (virus) once and I don’t want to go through it again.”

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.