Wife of Norfolk County farmer who survived COVID-19 to run 90 km for Hamilton fundraiser

Sarah and Mike VanNetten bidding farewell to Hamilton General on June 30, 2021. For 83 days, Mike was in the hospital with COVID-19. Sarah VanNetten / Facebook

A chicken farmer from Norfolk County, who nearly lost his life to COVID-19, says life is getting better everyday but not enough to join his wife on a 90 km run.

“First off, I’m going to say I’m not going to be running,” Mike VanNetten told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“My wife and a bunch of her friends from her gym are going to be doing the running.”

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Sarah VanNetten begins that run on Friday and it’s her way of expressing gratitude for the care her hubby received earlier this year at Hamilton General Hospital (HGH) while in an intensive care unit for close to 83 days.

VanNetten has a pair of teams participating, the ‘Chicken’s HIIT Chicks’ and ‘Team Chicken’ for short. The plan is to run from the VanNetten farm in Simcoe and relay every 5 km until they reach the General in the late afternoon.


Sarah says the idea to participate in Strides For Health Care Heroes — a virtual fundraising event held by Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) Foundation — was from her cousin Chris, who’s a nurse on the ICU floor.

“It’s not even about the ECMO machine, it’s about these health-care workers getting the acknowledgment that they deserve,” VanNetten said.

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“They’ve been fighting this fight for almost two years now and they’re tired and they just need to have a boost.”

VanNetten said the ordeal with her husband was “the most terrifying experience” of her life.

Mike was admitted to HGH on April 13 after he was airlifted from Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington following a two-day stint on a ventilator with severe cold-like symptoms.

Read more: Norfolk farmer goes home after months in Hamilton ICU with COVID-19

VanNetten was given one of the most extreme treatments seen amid the pandemic, extended time on an ECMO machine.

ECMO treatment — or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — is a form of life support that uses a pump to circulate blood through a machine that replaces the work of someone’s lungs and, in some cases, their heart.

Also known as artificial lungs, ECMO technology takes some of a patient’s blood, adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide, then pumps it back into the body.

“He would have died if he hadn’t have gotten the chance to be on the machine,” said Sarah.

“I mean, there’s just not enough that we can do to say good things about the Hamilton general, the rehab centre, Hamilton Health Sciences in general.”

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In a late May during an HHS town hall, president and CEO Rob MacIsaac shared with staff the importance of the ECMO program and how much more common its use had become amid the third wave of the pandemic

“Typically, we might have one or two patients on that ECMO at any given time, when there isn’t a pandemic,” MacIsaac said.

“During the pandemic, we’ve had up to 10 patients receiving this level of care at the general.”

Read more: Hamilton records over 2,100 COVID-19 vaccine shots in one day, highest in weeks

The depth of Mike VanNetten’s stay was difficult as the 45-year-old was unable to communicate with wife Sarah and family members for close to 40 days.

Ultimately, VanNetten was able to happily say goodbye to physicians and staff in July after several months in an ICU.

“I don’t recall any of the first 40, 45 days there,” said Mike Van Netten.

“I was in a coma and put on the ECMO and that machine saved my life.”

Proceeds raised from the run will support the purchase of ECMO machines for HHS. The original fundraising goal for the teams was set for $5,000, but as of Thursday both had already surpassed the $15,000 mark.

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Donations can be made until Sunday night through the HHS website at Chicken’s HIIT Chicks or Team Chicken.

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