One in ICU and one at home, Northland couple battles and survives COVID-19

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Northland couple both suffered through and survived COVID-19, but each has a different story to tell.

One became North Kansas City Hospital’s first coronavirus patient, and the other suffered at home, helpless.

John Williams didn’t feel well after he and his wife Vicki Young returned from a trip to Idaho at the beginning of the year. When he checked into North Kansas City Hospital, he said he thought it might just be for the weekend or so.

“I don’t remember 33 days of my life,” Williams said.

The 48 days that followed included a stay in ICU for more than a month, total isolation and, for much of it, no memory.

One of the hundreds who treated him during his stay was Dr. Colleen Buchinger. 

“You become very attached to your patients, particularly when you go through something that’s so trying and very difficult,” Buchinger said. “It was new to all of us at the hospital. It’s not something that any of us had any experience with, so we went through it together, and I think because of that there was a bond that was formed.”

Buchinger described extensive treatment for Williams, including two intubations for respiratory failure, prone positioning (where a patient is placed on his stomach to increase oxygen flow to the lungs), and both physical and mental therapy.

She said Young was his biggest cheerleader and attributes his recovery, in part, to her support.

John Williams and Vicki Young

“If I called and told her he was having a bad day or didn’t want to do therapy, you better believe she was on that phone with him and encouraging him, even when he didn’t necessarily want to do it,” Buchinger said. “I think he did it because of her.”

Young’s struggles were just about her fear for John or her loneliness at home without him. She, too, tested positive for COVID-19.

“I was down for about 10 days. I was really out of it, but I had two nieces who masked up and wouldn’t let me be alone. It was very hard. I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about him. I did not want to be without him,” Young said.

Williams eventually pulled through, and the pair is now home recovering.

On the day of his release, the hospital planned a very memorable departure for this special patient.

“They wheeled me into the hallway, and the hallway was filled with nurses and doctors and staff, and that’s the first I really saw people,” Williams said. “It was just emotionally heart-wrenching. Then they took me downstairs and I got to see everyone: Vicki, my children, grandbabies, cousins, friends and others.”

“‘We’re going to have a small celebration,’” Young said staff told her. “Well there were two halls of people to see him out! It was the best moment I can say of my life because I hadn’t been able to see him in person. I was able to hold his hand and kiss him on the cheek and hug him.”

They’re both working to regain the weight each of them lost. Young said Williams is still weak and a little unsure on his feet. She said he’s short-winded and sometimes has difficulty breathing due to tracheal stenosis, which she said was caused by the tube connected to the ventilator.

“My only ailment now is fear of COVID-19, and the fear is very real,” she said. 

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