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It was March 15. Lakewood resident Brian Seamon had just spent a week dealing with the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic in his everyday life.
With his family in need of items like eggs and toilet paper, Seamon had traveled to numerous grocery stores across the metro area, on a mission to find necessities that seemed to be out of stock everywhere he went. Event cancellations, like the March 10 cancellation of the St. Patrick's Day Festival in the Seamons' former town of Arvada, had the couple disappointed and unsure if such drastic measures were necessary.
But that Sunday, after waking up and making breakfast for his family, the more personal effects of COVID-19 in Seamon's life started to appear.
“He was complaining it was really cold in the house,” said Seamon's wife, Heather. Though her husband is 47 years old and relatively healthy, he had pancreatitis several years ago, prompting Heather to call an urgent care center and ask if Brian should come in.
Instead, the center told the couple to go to the emergency room, where Brian was tested for the flu and strep. His doctor also wrote him an order to have the COVID-19 test that Friday, telling Brian to self-quarantine until then.
After that, the couple went back home.
“He kept getting sicker and sicker. He was throwing up the whole week,” Heather said. “His temperature was ranging from 101 to 102 and he couldn't keep any of the medication down for his fever.”
After taking her husband to another hospital that Wednesday, a chest X-ray suggested nothing was wrong with his lungs, leading to Brian getting sent home once again. At the end of the week, Brian was tested for COVID-19 and took a prescription medication over the weekend, but by Sunday, a week after his symptoms began, he was finding it difficult to breathe — sparking yet another trip to the hospital that ended in Brian's March 22 admission to the Medical Center of Aurora.
Following days of limited communication with her husband and his doctors, Heather woke up the morning of March 26 to a voicemail from Brian.
“On Wednesday night, they ran another chest X-ray and his lungs looked really bad. They had taken him to the ICU (intensive care unit) in the middle of the night,” Heather said. “He said goodbye to me and told me to say goodbye to our son.”
Meanwhile, Brian was told by his doctor he would be put on a ventilator, a machine that pumps oxygen into the lungs. Worried about the drastic treatment option, he asked the team to reconsider, with his doctors ultimately deciding to put him on a powered respirator instead.
“It feels like you've got your head out the window going 55 miles an hour,” Brian said of the respirator. “Your mouth is so dry from the air being blown on your tongue and gums and teeth. I didn't eat. I did not turn the TV on one time. All I wanted to do was sleep because it was so uncomfortable.”
Brian said he cannot remember the exact length of time he was on the respirator, estimating it was about three to four days. In addition to facing physical discomfort, he couldn't have visitors and had little contact with his doctors, who all constantly wore extensive protective gear covering their entire bodies, Brian said, adding to his sense of unease.
Back at home, Heather was trying to keep herself occupied and help the couple's son, a kindergartener, through his first weeks of online school.
With loved ones unable to comfort her in person, her support system quickly found countless ways to stand by her and her family, she said.
“People did things like video chats, texting, setting up a meal train. It felt like I lived in a magical world because every day I would open the door and there would be a Starbucks on my porch,” Heather said. “I heard from people I went to college with, somebody I worked with 15 years ago sent us a gift card … Thoughtful little things meant the world and gave us a little bit of normalcy.”
And in the meantime, slowly, Brian started to take a turn for the better. With his health improving, he was moved out of the ICU and later discharged from the hospital April 7.
“Every day, I've significantly gotten better,” Brian said after two weeks of being back at home. “When I was in the hospital and I tried to breathe in, it felt like I could only take in 25% of what I normally can. Within two days of being home, I was up to 75%, and now I'm at about 90 to 95%.”
However, the return home has come with some surprising changes, including that Brian has had to rely on an oxygen tank, which will last for a period of about six weeks from the time of his discharge.
“You don't hear about anybody on the news going home with oxygen,” and the unexpected requirement has been an adjustment, Brian said.
Even so, doctors have told him that his health should return to normal in the coming months and he will not face any long-term medical effects because of the coronavirus.
To this day, the couple says they have no idea where Brian picked the virus up. As far as they know, none of their friends and none of Brian or Heather's coworkers have had the disease, suggesting he possibly caught the virus somewhere in the community, they said.
Now, the couple is focused on sharing their story to encourage others to take social distancing seriously and wear masks whenever they're out in public.
“All my friends I've talked to say I've changed their life and their coworkers' lives that they told my story to,” Brian said. “A lot more people took it seriously after hearing that.”
He and Heather are also hoping they could eventually do more to help others with the disease, with Heather planning to test for antibodies in hopes that both she and Brian can become plasma donors.
“I do everything I can so people don't end up like me,” Brian said. “I just want people to be safe.”
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