COVID patient who spent 85 days in hospital talks about recovery

Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 7:06 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - As we cross the two-year mark of the pandemic, one man who battled COVID-19 for almost three months at a Nashville hospital is on the mend but wants people to know the virus is still impacting lives.

A healthy Steve Sechler spoke to News4 outside TriStar Centennial Medical Center on Wednesday, something that seemed almost impossible late last year when he was on an ECMO machine and ventilator for over 85 days.

“I’m really thankful. I’m just counting my blessings,” Sechler said as he sat on a bench outside the hospital.

The latest numbers from the World Health Organization show COVID-19 cases and deaths are dropping.

The Sechler of August 2021 is quite different from the Sechler of today. He said he lost about 80 pounds.

“It’s very traumatizing to be in that situation. There’s some PTSD there or what not from being in that coma state and everything that happened to me during my coma was very traumatizing, and of course waking up and not being able to breathe,” Sechler said. “When I look back at myself, I just see myself struggling to breathe, and it scares me.”

Sechler went to the hospital on May 21 and was discharged the last day of August, and there was more therapy after that.

“Then I had to go to Select to do critical care, get started with physical therapy, more so than I had done here. Then I had to spend about 11 days at Encompass, which is a third facility to do my real hardcore rehab to get me to learn to walk again. Physically it’s been a challenge. I’m probably 70% there. I still have a long way to go,” Sechler said. “All my organs are still trying to rebuild. I still have atrophy. I’m still vastly underweight. My voice from being intubated and being on a vent so long, it’s going to take a while to get my voice back. I have to do speech therapy.”

But one thing he can still do is hug and laugh with his ECMO nurse.

“I feel blessed, and I appreciate you kicking my butt into shape, working those days where sitting up was so difficult,” Sechle told his nurse Jamie Jarzembowski on Wednesday.

“You need that extra motivation, that is what I call it,” Jarzembowski, the ECMO Coordinator at TriStar Centennial, said.

Sechler said he first saw Jarzembowski in January of this year and he got to see her again on Wednesday.

“I got to talk to somebody that was on ECMO. That was probably the highlight of my year so far,” Sechler said.

“I think when you’re there and in it, you don’t see the end. Every day is a struggle. You don’t know what’s coming next,” Jarzembowski said. “To see somebody that’s been through it, it’s helpful to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Both Jarzembowski and Sechler talked about the difficulty of that period when he was in the hospital.

“All of the sadness that you deal with every day,” Sechler said. “But then there’s you who makes it all worthwhile,” Jarzembowski responded.

It’s a sadness Sechler feels people have begun to overlook as the pandemic stretches into its third year.

“People want to get back to their normal way of life, but unfortunately for people like myself, that’s not so easy to do,” Sechler said. “It’s not something that we can just turn off. It’s an everyday thing. I don’t know what to tell people that they don’t already know other than to say that people are still dying from it,” Sechler said.

As he focuses on his physical recovery, Sechler knows the recovery from the emotional impact of COVID will take a while. He said the one thing he took away from his experience of battling COVID-19 in the hospital is life is valuable.

“I don’t feel like I appreciated life as much as I do now because going through what I went through, it’s like a good kick in the behind,” Sechler said. “It motivates you to do something with your life and I really plan on doing something with my life more than I did before. I think I just kind of took life for granted before and I kind of did my day-to-day thing. Because I was given such a blessing from God to have a second chance at life, I don’t plan on wasting it.”

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