For 14 days, Lea remained intubated. When his oxygen levels improved, and he was taken off the ventilator, he woke up to learn his sister Betty Johnston and brother-in-law Art Oestmann, who had both been at the family gathering, had died from COVID-19. “We didn’t know enough,” Lea says. “We were sitting around a card table playing games and didn’t have any thoughts that would have been inappropriate.” LaVetta also tested positive for COVID-19 but only presented GI symptoms.
Lea continued shedding the virus for five weeks and remained in isolation. To see him, his family gathered in the courtyard under his window, and the nurses and physicians became Lea’s support group. “On several occasions, the nurses gathered outside my room and prayed for me,” he says.
As Lea recovered, he had to regain his strength. “For every day you’re in bed, you lose about 1% of your muscle mass,” McNab says. “Imagine an 84-year-old who is paralyzed for 15 days. He went to sleep a healthy gentleman and woke up unable to get out of bed without two people helping him.”
When Lea regained his strength and was discharged, he insisted on walking out of the hospital on his own. Some 100 health care workers lined the hall of the main corridor to say goodbye. Some held balloons, others held handmade signs, and the song “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky played overhead. “We walked out together,” McNab says. Today, Lea is back home and is still social distancing. He credits his survival to the team at Freeman, but McNab credits Lea’s recovery to his focus on physical fitness. “He’s active every day,” McNab says. “That health, he brought it to this problem and it probably saved his life. I’d like to say he got great care, but at the end of the day, he was healthy enough to survive.”