86-year-old describes COVID-19 recovery

DANNEMORA — Eighty-six-year-old Albert LaDuke called his path to COVID-19 recovery a “rough road.”

“I got pretty sick,” he said. “I had quite a session on that.”

The diagnosis

— In March, the Dannemora resident had been contacted by health officials, letting him know that he had crossed paths with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Daughter-in-law Mary said it was days later that LaDuke had started to fall ill with flu-like symptoms.

“The idea that he could have (the virus) was in the back of our minds,” she said.

LaDuke, who had pre-existing health conditions, was soon after admitted to the University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh.

Weeks later he was transferred to the UVM Health Network-Elizabethtown Community Hospital rehabilitation, where he became that hospital’s first COVID-19 recovery patient.

No visitors

The 86-year-old wasn’t allowed visitors during his stay at either hospital, but Mary said the nurses and staff had done well to keep up the communication.

“And they kept his spirits up when we weren’t able to see him,” she said, adding that, while in Elizabethtown, they could see him through the window.

“It was nice for him to see a familiar face.”

One day when Mary, accompanied by husband James Sr., son James Jr. and her son’s girlfriend, delivered a sign, the nurses brought it to the sick LaDuke.

“It said, ‘Pepe, I love you and I miss you,'” LaDuke remembered, adding that a nurse had placed it in his room. “It stayed there the whole time.”

The switch

LaDuke, who was admitted for a total of 52 days, had filed a Do Not Resuscitate form and, therefore, spent no time on a ventilator during his stay.

When he arrived at the Elizabethtown health center, the hospital said he was very weak and had trouble walking.

While hospitalized, he was starting to feel more and more sick and Mary said, the thought that “this could be the end” was definitely there.

“No questions asked,” she said, adding that, at one point, LaDuke had asked to have a priest go and visit him.

“Call it divine intervention, but the priest went and saw him and the very next day he started to turn around,” she said.

“Believe what you may believe, but from that day on he has been improving.”

“To be with my family”

LaDuke spent his time there in an isolated room which, a hospital release says, was “outfitted with negative air pressure to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination from room to room.”

During his stay, he completed physical therapy and Dr. Michael Theeman, a physical therapist, said LaDuke “worked very hard so he could be as independent as possible and return home.”

After two COVID-19 tests came back negative, the 86-year-old was cleared to leave the hospital and on Wednesday, May 13, Elizabethtown Community Hospital staff lined the hallway to send him off.

“It felt really good,” LaDuke told The Press-Republican. “I felt so happy. I wanted to be with my family.”

Back to normal

LaDuke, who enjoys walking Champlain Centre with his friends, getting coffee at Stewart’s Shops and playing scratch-off tickets, hasn’t had a full return to normalcy just yet.

He has an at-home nurse and physical therapist to keep him moving.

“He understands that he’s not ready to drive and be out,” Mary said. “We’re hopeful that in three to four months he’ll be able to be ready to go.

“He has a wonderful attitude about this whole thing. He keeps saying, ‘I’m going to get better.'”


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