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COVID-19, other health scares cant keep hospital volunteer from wanting to help patients again – MLive.com

Posted: February 14, 2021 at 4:56 pm

MUSKEGON, MI After getting pneumonia twice and COVID-19 once, Bobbie Patton, 56, was in the hospital again.

It felt eerily familiar to have a tracheostomy tube down his throat.

Despite an 11-day fight in the intensive care unit battling COVID-19 and pneumonia, Patton wants nothing more than to regain his strength and get back to the hospital as a volunteer rather than a patient.

The longtime hospital volunteer with Klippel Feil Syndrome, a rare genetic condition affecting the spine, is looking forward to the time when he can connect with patients who face similar health scares or use a wheelchair like he does.

An 18-year volunteer at Mercy Health in Muskegon, he carved a niche delivering packages and working with patients.

It gave me purpose, Patton said. I like dealing with people, I like helping people, and every once in a while, I could help someone in a wheelchair.

The nurses there knew me, and when they came across a case with some guy just getting in a wheelchair or having (tracheostomy) problems, she would bring them to me. I would console them, talk to them, because its better from someone in a wheelchair than someone standing over you.

The pandemic took volunteering at the hospital away from him. Then came pneumonia, and then COVID-19, forcing him to fight for his life and work through intense physical therapy.

Patton was sitting in a rehabilitation bed when he was at the lowest, weakest point.

Knocked down after his fight with COVID-19, Patton said his aim wasnt just to regain his strength to go home, but to get back to being a volunteer at the hospital.

COVID-19 scared him

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on everything in his life. He stopped volunteering because Klippel Feil Syndrome made him highly susceptible to serious complications if he got the virus.

He sat down with his kids, Bobbie Jr., 31, and Dyray, 27, as the pandemic began to come to terms with how dangerous COVID-19 was to him.

I told my kids that if I get it, more than likely, Im not going to make it out, Patton said.

But while staying home, Patton developed pneumonia four months ago, putting him right back in the hospital. Treatment cleared things up in the short term, but a week later, it came back. He also tested positive for COVID-19.

Hospital volunteer Bobbie Patton works with staff at Mary Free Bed after an intense battle with COVID-19 and pneumonia. (Contributed photo from Mary Free Bed)

The hard thing was when I had to call my kids and tell them that I did have it, Patton said. I love my kids, you know... I cant lie to my kids. I had to be straight up with them, because they knew I was scared as hell.

The journey to recovery was a long one, and he said he felt weaker than he had ever been before. He said his family helped him with daily tasks, as Patton said he couldnt get in his wheelchair.

I was at the bottom, where I couldnt take care of myself, Patton said. That scared me. That put a fear in me that I never had.

However, it pushed him to want to recover more, he said.

Rehabbing is key after COVID-19

Weakened by the long hospital stay, Patton sought rehabilitation services at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Jess Larson, a physical therapist at Mary Free Bed, said the significance of rehabilitation is often underdiscussed in the recovery from COVID-19. Rehabilitation ranges from sitting up alone to working through difficult daily tasks, Larson said.

We get them out of that medically unstable condition, get them to rehab and hopefully get them at least two to three hours of rehab a day to increase their likelihood of getting home safely with assistance from family as needed, Larson said.

Dr. Sam Ho, medical director of Mary Free Beds Spinor Cord Injury Program, said that COVID-19 has only increased the need for rehab services. The rehabilitation hospital had entire COVID-specific units at times when West Michigan experienced its highest levels of cases.

COVID patients dont just bounce back, Ho said. I would say they have to crawl back because everything you do... you dont have to think about it. But for a lot of these COVID patients, they have to work from scratch to build up the strength before they can bring the spoon to their mouth.

Patton said he set small goals to keep himself motivated, which helped the three-week process go by.

I wasnt going to let nothing stop me, Patton said. I was going to work as hard as possible to get back and even get better.

Now back at home in Muskegon with his mother, Patton said hes been able to cherish sleeping in more in lieu of demanding therapy sessions. He also said he hopes he can return to volunteering at hospitals when the pandemic ends.

I want to get stronger and I do want to go back, Patton said. I like giving back theres no better feeling than that. If you help somebody that was struggling or has been through something youve been through, theyre never going to be the exact same, but I can offer them something by being similar to someone who is in a wheelchair paralyzed or had a (tracheostomy) in their throat.

So, any way I can help. Thats my calling.

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COVID-19, other health scares cant keep hospital volunteer from wanting to help patients again - MLive.com

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