COVID-19: Saskatchewan family recounts 146-day hospital stay

Richard Sommerfeld is recovering at home after staying in three different hospitals over 146 days after catching COVID-19. Sandra Sommerfeld / Supplied Photo

Richard Sommerfeld went to the Battleford, Sask. Union Hospital on Jan. 15 with what he thought was pneumonia.

The 65-year-old Medstead, Sask., man has underlying health issues and his wife Sandra said when he gets sick it often lingers longer.

Read more: ‘Waiting for my time to die’: COVID-19 patients, families recount time spent in Regina ICUs

Two days later, doctors diagnosed Richard with COVID-19 and put him in intensive care.

Richard said he doesn’t remember much of the next 20 days as he was heavily sedated and intubated — “everything they could do to keep me alive.”

Richard’s intubation tube was removed on Feb. 6 but it took time for him to wake up from the sedation.

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“It took him — when he started to wake up — a good week-and-a-half before he was alert,” Sandra said.

Sandra said her husband was taken to Royal University Hospital (RUH) in Saskatoon on Feb. 13.

“His vitals and everything spiked, it was very terrifying. We were very scared. They wanted me to prepare the family,” said Sandra, who was the only family member allowed to visit Richard.

Richard was at RUH for about a month before returning to the North Battleford Hospital on March 10.

There, Sandra said Richard could only stand for about three seconds and could talk a bit but was incoherent and hallucinating.

Read more: Family demands answers into failed airlift attempt of COVID-19 patient who died

On April 19, Richard started walking. Shortly before this, he was able to feed himself, too.

Richard and Sandra shared a dance together on Mother’s Day – a special moment captured by a nurse.

Click to play video: 'Richard Sommerfeld dances with wife on Mother’s Day in hospital' Richard Sommerfeld dances with wife on Mother’s Day in hospital
Richard Sommerfeld dances with wife on Mother’s Day in hospital – Jun 13, 2021

From there, Richard continued with his physiotherapy getting “stronger and stronger” Sandra said.

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On May 11, Richard was transferred to City Hospital in Saskatoon.

“The doctors and I decided it was best for him to go back to City Hospital for better rehab,” Sandra said.

There, Richard continued to get stronger and was given the OK to return home on June 10, ending a 146-day journey involving three different hospitals.

Click to play video: 'Richard Sommerfeld does the heel and toe polka' Richard Sommerfeld does the heel and toe polka
Richard Sommerfeld does the heel and toe polka – Jun 13, 2021

In total, Richard was in the ICU for 27 days and was intubated for 21 of those days.

Sandra calls the experience a “rollercoaster,” a tough time for her and her family. The couple has five kids and six grandchildren with two more expected soon.

“The nurses even say it was me who kept him alive, well it wasn’t. I was just determined to not let him die on me. I wouldn’t let him give up. I kept coaching and coaxing him,” Sandra told Global News.

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Sandra said Richard’s recovery was a combined effort and thanked the doctors and ICU staff. She also calls her husband a “miracle,” with a heart in AFib for 10 years, surviving cancer and now COVID-19.

Sandra ended up catching the virus too but didn’t have any symptoms, and they still don’t know where they caught the virus.

Read more: 3 more Manitobans receiving ICU care in Ontario have died

Richard, who is turning 66 soon, said his recovery is not too bad.

“It’s going to be quite a while yet because I lost all my muscles pretty much everywhere and so it’s just a matter of rebuilding them. And then, of course, when you lose your muscles then the nerves and the muscles don’t work together,” Richard said.

“It’s going to be a long haul, they say it could take up to 18 months. They figure I should recover pretty much completely.”

He can now stand for up to eight minutes on his own.

“First it was 20 seconds holding onto the bar, then it was 30, then it was 40, 50, and then I finally made it to a minute and we all celebrated in physio in North Battleford.”

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Richard says it feels great to be able to see his kids and grandkids again, and that he is looking forward to meeting his newest grandson who was born on May 21 – while Richard was still in hospital.

Click to play video: '‘Overwhelming majority’ of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan in May weren’t vaccinated: Merriman' ‘Overwhelming majority’ of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan in May weren’t vaccinated: Merriman
‘Overwhelming majority’ of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan in May weren’t vaccinated: Merriman – Jun 8, 2021

The couple’s message for others is to just keep fighting, and following public health measures. Sandra also encourages people to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity.

“It’s very scary for all of us. We’ve had the support of the whole community behind us, and family of course. Just do what you have to do and stay safe,” Sandra said.

“Just because things are opening up, don’t let your guard down,” Sandra added.

As for future plans, Richard intends to “just recover — enjoy life.”

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“Don’t take it for granted because you never know what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen. And cherish every moment you have together,” Sandra added.

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