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Cleared - Surviving COVID-19


In early March, many Americans started hearing more about a novel Coronavirus also known as COVID-19 that was spreading like wildfire across our nation.  Most people didn’t know a lot about this virus and wondered if it would even reach the local people of rural Southside Virginia. 

On March 23rd, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital admitted the hospital’s first COVID-19 patient; and that patient was La Crosse resident Donald Johnston.  Donald had been fighting a high fever for a few days and decided to make a trip to his primary care physician to get checked out.  During his check-up he was instructed to go to the VCU Health CMH emergency room and get tested for COVID-19; that test would come back positive.

In an interview with Donald, he stated that at this point he didn’t know how sick he really was or the fight he was about to begin.  That fight, would be a fight for his life.

Donald was transported and quarantined in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where CMH doctors and nurses cared for him.  Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Donald was not allowed any visitors, not even his wife, Bonnie. 

“Every day I felt helpless as I wasn’t able to see him.  We tried to talk on the phone, but Donnie could hardly breathe,” said Bonnie.  “On the 10th of April, my daughter Crystal and I had a video chat with Donnie’s doctor in the ICU.  We were told to prepare for the worst.  I remember that night, not being able to sleep as I kept thinking what am I going to write for Donnie’s obituary.”

Donald would spend 14 days in the ICU. “I don’t remember much about being there.  But I do know that if it wasn’t for the doctors and nurses in the ICU, I wouldn’t be here today.  The doctors and nurses along with God saved my life.”

After leaving the ICU, Donald would be transported to a regular patient room as he was still recovering. Bonnie said, “At this point it was still hard to talk to Donnie, his doctors and nurses were my lifeline to him.  They would call me and keep me updated on how he was doing.  The communication was as good as I could have asked.  The hospital staff was truly wonderful to us.”

On the path to recovery, Donald would spend six more days in his patient room.  He had finally reached the point where he was COVID negative and could be transported to an isolation wing of the Hundley Center where he would start rehab.  Donald didn’t know that the CMH staff had a surprise for him as he exited the hospital.

“When I came out of my room into the main hallway there were doctors and nurses lined all the way down cheering and clapping as I was being transported.  As I got further down the hallway I saw my wife for the first time in weeks.  It lit me right up; I was smiling from ear to ear, but she couldn’t see it because I was wearing a mask.  That was a memorable experience,” Donald said.

Donald would spend the next 24 days in an isolation wing of the Hundley Center.  His goal was to continue to recover and get stronger.  He worked with Hundley Center therapists on a set schedule to rehab his body since his illness had caused him to lose about 30 pounds since entering the hospital.  Donald said, “The Hundley Center staff was very professional.  I really looked forward to my time with the therapists and really enjoyed that experience, they were the best.”  Donald put in the rehab work needed to get stronger and now was finally healthy enough to go home and see his wife.

Donald said, “I had previously told the CMH staff while I was in the main hospital that I’m going to get home to my wife, I’m not dying here, I’m walking out of here.”  After a total of seven and a half weeks in the hospital and Hundley Center, that’s exactly what he did.

“I was discharged from the Hundley Center on May 14th at 11:30 AM.  I remember walking through the doors of the glass window corridor and everyone cheering as I walked down toward the exit.  I turned to the exit door and my wife was right there.  I know I hugged her for at least two minutes.  It’s something I will never forget,” said Donald.

Bonnie said, “It is truly a miracle that Donnie’s still here with me.  I hope the CMH doctors and nurses know how appreciative we are for saving his life.  I don’t think he could have been in a better place than CMH.”

“I’m feeling good and getting better day by day,” Donnie said. “I work in the yard and stay as active as I can.  To survive COVID at the age of 79, I thank Jesus every day.”