Terry Sullivan is being called a miracle. At the age of 73, he beat the COVID-19 coronavirus.
On Friday, healthcare workers lined a hall at Yuma Regional Medical Center to bid farewell and celebrate Sullivan’s release from the hospital, where he spent almost a month in intensive care.
“It’s pretty amazing,” his wife Diane, 70, told the Yuma Sun.
She couldn’t be there in person, but she watched the celebration through live video. “I almost felt like I was there,” she said.
Terry doesn’t remember anything from his nearly monthlong stay in the hospital as he fought the virus. His last memory is riding the ambulance to the hospital on March 24.
Next thing he knows, he’s waking up with a full beard when he last remembers being clean-shaven and his fingernails are long. And the board in front of his bed says it’s April. He was surprised to learn he had been on a ventilator and in a coma for about a month.
For a living, Terry picks up and delivers brand-new trash trucks for a transportation company. “I love to drive. I sit behind the steering wheel and get paid for it,” he said.
He had traveled to New York and New Jersey and was in and out of the airports in that area. He came home on March 18. As soon as he came through the doors of his Foothills home with bags in hand, Diane knew something was wrong.
“He didn’t look well. His complexion was bad, he was tired, and he didn’t look right,” she recalled.
Terry didn’t have a cough or shortness of breath, but he had a fever and no appetite and he was extremely fatigued. He went to bed and didn’t get out of bed for the next six days.
Finally, on March 24, he got up to take a shower. Diane was thinking about taking him to the hospital because she knew he was getting dehydrated. But then he passed out in the shower. She called 911, and the ambulance came for him.
They spent the night in the Emergency Department, and the next morning they admitted him and put him in an isolation room.
It was hard for Diane not being able to go with him. “That was really devastating,” she said.
On March 27, he was tested for COVID-19, and two days later it came back positive. Diane was not tested, but the hospital told her to self-quarantine and if she became seriously symptomatic, to call and they would bring her in.
Apparently Diane developed a milder form of the virus. She had stomach cramps and diarrhea, was extremely thirsty and had a little bit of a dry cough. Several nights she woke up in a pool of sweat. She was also very tired, and her taste buds were off. “Nothing tasted normal,” she recalled.
At the hospital, even before the virus was confirmed, doctors were treating him as though he had COVID-19, but he didn’t immediately go into ICU. However, the next day he developed pneumonia in one lung, and the following day, he had it in both lungs. He went into the ICU and was put on a ventilator.
On March 30, he went into cardiac arrest, but the doctors performed CPR and brought him back. With a few broken ribs, but he was back, Diane noted.
On Day 10 or 11, doctors started talking about getting him off of the ventilator, but he was not breathing on his own yet. They decided to give him the weekend and see what happened. It was Easter weekend. That Sunday night, a nurse noticed that he was breathing on his own.
“It was the first time we saw something positive,” Diane said.
The providers began doing breathing trials by setting the ventilator on CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) to allow him to breathe on his own but with a little bit of help. During the day they would leave him on the CPAP for longer periods, and at night, he would go on the ventilator, but it was reduced from 70% to 40%. In time, doctors would remove him from the ventilator and put him on nasal oxygen.
IN MEDICALLY INDUCED COMA
During all this time, Terry was in a medically induced coma. The doctors and nurses tried to prepare Diane for the worst. He had several things going against him. Terry was older and had underlying health issues, including stage 2 kidney disease and prostate problems. With his kidneys compromised already, his providers had to tread carefully so as not to further damage his kidneys.
Then fluid started collecting in his lungs, so the doctors drained his lungs so he could breathe easier. “It was such an up-and-down journey, such a roller coaster. Some days good things would happen and then something else would happen,” Diane said.
She prayed to God for the strength to help her endure and to give her “waiting grace because it’s so hard to wait.”
She was prepared for the worst. “I understood he was 73 and not breathing on his own at all. I did not bury my head in the sand,” she said. “I understood there was no magical cure. They were working in the dark, doing what they felt they could do.”
FAITH IN GOD
But, at the same time, “my faith was in a God that I know is alive. My trust was in Him, and if it was His plan, He would bring my husband back.”
She feels the power of prayer worked for them. “We believe it had a lot to do with the recovery of my husband, that he is still alive. We have strong faith and we had prayers going on all over this nation, people we didn’t even know. Some friends stayed up all night praying so I could sleep,” Diane said.
She’s very grateful for this support. “Your husband has been diagnosed with COVID and you’re alone and you can’t see him. It was a horrible time,” she said.
But with so many people praying for them, “I never felt totally alone. We have wonderful neighbors and friends and church family. They brought me meals every night,” she said.
Diane also believes that God answered their specific prayers. Some people started praying specifically for his kidneys, “and almost immediately they started working better.”
She believes God answered another of her prayers: to give Terry the best skilled providers. Dr. Nataliya Kozodoy “was fabulous. Every decision she made was very well thought through. That is the good part of it. He got such loving and personal care,” she said.
She’s also grateful to the hospital staff for helping her keep touch with Terry. “Every person who worked in the ICU, they were so kind to let me talk to him. They would stay in the room for 15 minutes to let me talk.”
Although unconscious, he would respond, turning his head toward her voice. She sang songs, read scriptures and prayed.
The first day he was able to truly “talk” was the day after Easter Sunday when they took him off the ventilator. “He tried to talk to me. I couldn’t understand him. His throat and tongue were swollen,” she recalled.
But as the days went on, he started talking very well. “They tell me it’s a miracle. I don’t remember too much about it. I was asleep the whole time. I just remember the ambulance ride,” he recalled.
When he woke up, one of the first things he noticed was the date on the board in front of the bed. “That can’t be right,” he thought. Then he noticed his beard. “I didn’t grow this in one or two days, and my fingernails, which I keep short, looked like a woman’s fingernails.”
Then they started asking him questions: “What year is it? Who’s president?” He was able to answer them correctly.
ICU nurse LaVita Burnette treated Terry for eight days in the COVID-19 unit. “He’s a miracle. He had a lot of prayers going for him,” Burnette said. “He was very sick. When I got him, he’d already been here for a while. He started getting a little bit better, and a little bit better.”
When Diane called, Burnette would lay her communication device on his chest so she could talk to her husband. “She’s an incredible lady. I told her, ‘I loved listening to you.’ Every day she called. It was so touching to hear her talk to him and for her to tell him God is caring for him.”
“SUCH A BLESSING”
Burnette also “truly enjoyed” taking care of him. “Even when he got better, he was so pleasant and thankful. He was such a blessing,” she said. “He actually was kind of a jokester. He would tease a little bit after he got better and was sitting in a chair, joking with us and making us laugh. So when he walked out of here, it made me cry. It made a lot of us cry.”
When time came for Terry to go home, he first went to rehab, but after one night they sent him home. The streets in their neighborhood were adorned with ribbons tied to fences and other places. “It was a little party. He was their hero. Even the doctors called him their hero,” Diane said.
He slept fairly well his first night home, and he’s eating better. “He’s on the mend, but it will take some time,” she added.
His sense of humor survived unscathed. He joked with Diane that he went into the hospital a “real man” and came out an “old man,” weighing 20 pounds less.
“I’ll take you anyway,” she countered.
They celebrated their 13th anniversary this month. It’s a very happy marriage. “We love each other. He’s the only man who has been in my life who showed respect and what love really is,” Diane said.
They met in 2007 in Yuma. She had been living here since 1999. He was from Illinois, retired from John Deere. He had a friend in Yuma, so he bought an RV and ventured out. They met in church.
After getting married, they went back and forth to Illinois for seven years. Then they were ready to settle down and bought a house in Yuma. “I love Yuma. and he likes it here too. It’s home. It’s a pretty great community,” Diane said.
Together they have four kids and 11 grandkids scattered across the U.S.
Diane describes Terry as a “very quiet man. He doesn’t always have a lot to say, unless it’s about cars or something like that.” He likes to go to the Donut Corral and have his cappuccino and a donut and then go to the lemon lots to see what cars people are selling.
“He’s the kind of person that would give you his shirt off his back. He’s very kind, he helps people, but he doesn’t like to be in the limelight,” Diane said.
“WEAK AS A KITTEN”
How is he feeling now? “I’m weak as a kitten,” Terry said on Saturday. “I feel quite a little bit better today.”
“Yesterday was a big day. We might have overdone it a little bit,” Diane added.
His voice comes and goes due to the bruises on his throat from the ventilator. At the hospital, they had him on a liquid diet. “Soup, soup and more soup,” he recalled. “And cream of wheat.” But his appetite is back, and all he wants is steak and potatoes. “I wanted to go out and grill a steak, but she said no, you can’t do that.”
Terry expressed his appreciation to the YRMC staff. “They were super, super, super nice to me. I couldn’t have asked for nicer people. They were always asking if I wanted something.”
He’s looking forward to riding his sand rail and visiting his 89-year-old mother and his kids. At 94, Diane’s mother is also alive and well.
To those fighting the virus, Terry offered this advice: “Don’t give up. Keep fighting the fight with good doctors and a lot of prayer.”