Cheyenne COVID-19 survivor shares his story

Michael Hurt poses for a photo with his wife, Melissa Hurt, on their front porch Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in east Cheyenne. Michael was diagnosed with COVID-19, and after a stint at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center has since recovered and returned home. Photo by Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

CHEYENNE – When she got the call that her husband was being put on a ventilator, Melissa Hurt was surprised.

Her COVID-19 positive husband, Michael Hurt, 60, had been in a motorcycle accident a few years ago, and had to be put on a ventilator then, too. Afterward, he told his wife that that was something he never wanted to do again.

So when the doctor called from Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, where Michael Hurt was in the Intensive Care Unit, and said he decided he was going on the ventilator – she was shocked more than anything else.

On Friday, March 27, Michael Hurt went to a local urgent care facility with COVID-19 symptoms, and received a test. He went home that day, still feeling sick, but OK.

Over the weekend, everything would change.

Michael Hurt woke up drenched in sweat, with a fever around 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and Melissa quickly drove him to the CRMC emergency room Friday night. Once he was there, he was quickly taken into the ICU for COVID-19 treatment and tested again.

Both tests from the urgent care and the hospital came back positive for the virus. By Monday, March 30, Michael Hurt was being put on a ventilator to save his life, which he remained on for 10 days.

“I was so, so drained, I felt like a truck had run over me,” he said this week. “I just felt like something had just ran over me and drained everything out of me. I had a hard time. I mean, I’m not a little guy, by any means, and I had a hard time even being able to lift that plastic cup with some ice water in it. I’m still, still drained.”

When he woke up after being intubated, he said he still had trouble walking around his hospital room. His wife added that his cognition also was off.

After those 10 days, he would spend more than a week in the hospital’s isolation unit for COVID-19 patients.

He was finally released this past Monday afternoon to go home with his wife and to see his family – although he still has to maintain his distance from them because he is still COVID-19 positive.

He still can’t hug his wife or touch his grandkids. Everyone still needs to stay at least six feet from him to avoid catching the virus. At this point, Michael Hurt said he’s been testing positive for the novel coronavirus for more than a month.

“It’s really depressing. It really is, because I want it gone, you know, I want to be away from it,” he said.

There was one point when he was in the ICU, that his condition was bad enough that his doctors had to ask Melissa Hurt what his wishes were.

“Trying to make those decisions by a phone call wasn’t easy,” she said. She had to talk to the doctors about what it would mean for a “do not resuscitate” wish, and what those outcomes would look like.

CRMC President and CEO Tim Thornell said as of Wednesday morning, there were 76 people in Laramie County who’ve tested positive for the virus, and 34 presumed positive people in the county. A total of 49 of them have recovered – meaning there are about 61 active cases in the county right now.

Of those, only four are currently hospitalized at CRMC, Thornell said.

Thornell said it’s important to remember Wyoming probably hasn’t reached its peak yet for the virus. The peak represents the midpoint, not the end, of fighting the virus, he noted.

It’s still incredibly important to practice social distancing and good hand hygiene so people can get back to some degree of normalcy, he said.

“It’s not something you mess around with. You have to take it very serious, because I guarantee you, they don’t want to be in a situation I was in, or feel the way I do now,” Michael Hurt said. “So yes, definitely not something to be taken lightly at all.”

When Michael Hurt was finally well enough to be discharged from the hospital, he didn’t get to sneak out the back door. After nearly a month of being hospitalized, as he was being wheeled out of the hospital, the hallways were lined with the nurses and doctors charged with taking care of him during his stay.

As he went through the hallways toward the hospital exit, the nurses and doctors cheered him on, as his eyes lit up above his masked nose and mouth.

“I don’t think people understand the significance after being intubated for that long with coronavirus and leaving and having a really good outcome,” CRMC nurse April Ogeda said. “I don’t think that he understood the magnitude of what that meant for him, so I really wanted to show that we were really proud of the work that he did and the fight that he put on to make it home.”

Ogeda is currently assigned to the COVID-19 isolation unit at CRMC and was one of the nurses who took care of Michael Hurt. She said he was her first intubated patient that was on the path to recovery, and she wanted to make his stay the best it could be for what he went through.

Before he was intubated, Ogeda said he told her that on his last phone call to his wife before he was put under, he asked her if she wanted him to fight it or not. Of course, Ogeda said, his wife said yes.

When Michael Hurt woke up, and was reoriented, he told Ogeda that he guessed he did the job and fought hard enough. Ogeda said it’s important to remember COVID-19 isn’t a death sentence, and it’s important for people to fight through the bad times to recover so they get to go home.

Dr. Vivek Yarlegadda, CRMC hospitalist, said Michael Hurt was one of the hospital’s sickest patients because not only were his lungs failing, he also was in severe septic shock. He said the fact that Michael Hurt was able to pull through is a very big deal.

“It has a very high mortality for that age group, and especially when you have a lot of other concurrent illnesses,” Yarlegadda said. “I think the doctors were working around the clock for him, making sure that they were constantly monitoring him and made the necessary adjustments his medication. That kind of helped him to get through this whole ordeal.”

ICU nurse Rosa Williams said this is a difficult and stressful time for everyone, but it’s rewarding when she gets to see people recover from the virus. She said it’s also heartbreaking because the families don’t have the chance to see what their loved one is going through when they’re in the hospital’s isolation unit.

She said it’s heartbreaking speaking to family members who would do anything to be with their loved one. She added that doctors and nurses are constantly calling family members to keep them up to date on their loved one’s status.

Melissa Hurt said she was very pleased with the care her husband received at CRMC, and is incredibly thankful to all the nurses and doctors who kept her informed, and cared for her husband, as he battled the virus.

“You know, everything is sort of negative and how many people die and stuff, and that’s all you hear,” Melissa Hurt said. “They don’t really talk a lot about the successful cases that have recovered, and I think it would have been nice if there was like a support group, and people that have had a family member go through this, too, because even the doctors at times didn’t know what to expect.”