Man goes home after 223 days in hospital with COVID-19

Sep 2, 2021, 6:24 PM | Updated: Sep 3, 2021, 8:20 am

MURRAY, Utah — A Salt Lake City man has returned home after he spent 223 days hospitalized with COVID-19. Thomas Kearl, 59, feared he would die in the ICU at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, but he kept fighting to return to his family.

“It was a horrible battle. And, I felt more pain than I’ve ever experienced,” said Kearl, who fought a bout with COVID-19 that started back on his birthday, Jan. 11.

He said his faith and prayer and the care of the professionals in the hospital saved his life.

“I remember at night having bad dreams,” he said in an online press conference. “I remember one night being afraid to close my eyes because I wouldn’t make it.”

Thom Kearl was filled with gratitude last week as caregivers cheered him as he headed home. He said they saved his life.

“I had a lot of guardian angels,” he said.

Kearl and a number of family members caught COVID-19 after gathering during the holidays. He arrived at the emergency room with a temperature of 105. Days later, his illness continued to intensify.

“One of the doctors came in and said, Thom, we have to put you on a ventilator or you won’t make it through the night,” he said.

He spent months in the ICU going in and out of a coma and was told he had coded out.

“Code blue means I died,” he said.

Kearl had to be intubated five times and resuscitated by doctors four times.

“I didn’t want to die,” he said with a quavering voice. “I have too much to live for. I love my family. I love my children. I love my three grandkids. So I kept fighting.”

He said he relied on his faith and prayer to survive.

“I had some incredible spiritual experiences that I call on the other side of the veil,” Kearl said.

He couldn’t walk or stand up the entire time he was in the hospital.

“I didn’t have food. I didn’t taste food for almost seven months. They fed me through a tube,” he said.

Kearl did not have any pre-existing conditions and said he was pretty healthy. Doctors said no other patient has spent that much time in the ICU.

“In the past 18-plus months, we’ve seen a lot of bad things happen, and so to see somebody we worked extremely hard to save is really heartening for me,” said Dr. Peter Crossno, a critical care and pulmonary physician at Intermountain Medical Center.

He had to endure the entire experience without his family at his side. A son was married during his hospitalization, and he came to visit at the window. His wife was only able to visit after several months.

“Her holding my hand was a comfort that was just incredible,” he said.

He’s still recovering and doing 18 hours of physical therapy each week.

“They saved my life. And I’m grateful for that.”

Kearl got sick before the vaccine was available to his age group. But he is vaccinated now, and he encourages everyone to roll up their sleeve or face the kind of illness that he did.

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