Updated: Jul 13
Incredibly: Dad, Mom & Son are placed on ventilators rooms away from each other without knowing it. 81-year-old mother in law has the mildest case of all of them and is discharged weeks later.
Jordan 25, Chuck 54, (Injection molding Plant Supervisor) Barb 82 and Diane 53, "The Drungelo Family", Carol Stream, Illinois
Chuck & Family's COVID-19 STORY:
My name is Chuck Drungelo, I work as a Supervisor at a plastic injection molding company, in South Elgin Illinois. I am 54 years old, and my COVID-19 journey started on April 13th, 2020. I had a slight cough which I attributed to allergies or asthma, as it was Spring in South Elgin, but due to COVID-19 hitting the United States pretty hard by now, the HR department at our company had instructed all employees to stay home if anyone had a cough, fever, or potential Coronavirus symptoms, so that Monday I called into work. I didn't think much of it. (At the time I was the only one leaving the house: my wife Diane, my son, Jordan, who was taking college classes online, and my Mother in law, Barb, who lives with us, would NOT leave the house in fear of contracting this virus.) So of course, who do you think got the virus first.....YEP...ME.
The Monday that I called into work, was unknowingly my very first day with the Coronavirus; I had no idea that at that time, this little virus would change my life and the life of my family over the days and months to come. On day 2, Tuesday, I was coughing a little more so I stayed home again. On day 3, I was getting body aches, and it was harder to breathe, so I did a Tele-Doc appt with my PCP, she suggested I get tested for COVID-19. This was the day that my 25-year-old son and then 81-year-old mother in law started to cough as well. Thursday, I spiked a fever that initially was 99 and it eventually jumped up to 102. I realized that day, that I also could not smell. Although it was likely a little too late, I began staying in the bedroom to quarantine, so as not to infect my family with anything. That Friday I was miserable, I had tested for COVID on the 16th, and that day, I found out that I was positive.. now it made sense as to why I was feeling so miserable and going downhill quickly. I WAS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19.
Saturday my wife took my Mother in Law to the doctor, she had low potassium and Diane was told by the doctor, to take her to the E.R. at Central Dupage Hospital. My wife had to drop her off and could not go in with her, as hospitals were not allowing anyone to accompany the patient into the facility, due to the threat of contracting or spreading the virus. She tested positive and was admitted for trouble breathing, fever, and low potassium. They started her on oxygen and she remained in the hospital, alone, for about 2.5 weeks. Little did we know, as a family, that in addition to Barb being admitted to the hospital, things were about to take a huge turn for the worse...
Late Sunday evening, my son Jordan began having trouble breathing, he took a nebulizer breathing treatment, but it didn't help. My wife decided he needed to go to the E.R. and stood in the doorway of our room, while I was in the bed shivering with horrible chills, and she asked me if I wanted to go, (it was more of an urging than a question.) I said no, I didn't want to do anything that required getting out of that bed. For a second time, my wife dropped off a member of our family at the hospital. He was admitted and began battling COVID-19 alone. (He was the first of us to be put on a ventilator)
Monday morning was my turn, and Diane dropped me at the same E.R. doors where days before she had dropped her own mother and her son: now she was dropping off her husband, with no idea whether she would see any of us again. 4 days later she called the ambulance for herself. All 4 of our family members were admitted to the same hospital, at the same time.
My son and I were moved into ICU within a couple of days, then my wife joined us. I was in one room, Diane, in the next room over, and Jordan, 2 rooms over from us. . I didn't know this at the time, but my son was put on a ventilator first and sedated. He was on for 4 days, taken off but immediately had to be put on again for another 4 days. I was next.. Before my wife could be put on a vent, she had to sign over my care to my sister, sign over her care to my son, and the care of my Mother in Law had to be signed over to Diane's sister. We were the first family, in the history of Central Dupage Hospital, to have 3 family members on ventilators at the same time. My wife was placed on the vent for about 10 days, and my son for about 8. The ventilator was not enough to help my lungs, as they were full. My medical team decided to put me on ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, also known as extracorporeal life support, which is an extracorporeal technique of providing prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to persons whose heart and lungs are unable to provide an adequate amount of gas exchange or perfusion to sustain life.) so my heart and lungs could rest and recover.
I received Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir, before going on ECMO, and continued both for 10 days. During the first 10 days or so, they told my sister it didn't look good for me and they gave me less than a 10% chance of survival. She asked about whether I could be given convalescent plasma, and they told her that they were not giving plasma treatments, at this time. (I had prayed to God, in ICU, to save me, that I was not done being there for my family yet) Somehow, a day later they told my sister that they had a donor for plasma and that they could give me the treatment. At the point that the plasma treatment was available, I had already gone downhill even further and had been given a tracheostomy, as well as a feeding tube, that was placed below my rib cage.
My sister is confident that following the plasma treatment, I turned the corner. After 19 days I was taken off the ECMO. I'm not sure how long I was in the ICU but sure it was about 4 weeks minimum. I was in a COVID-19 unit after I developed an intestinal infection that had to be suctioned to remove the waste and jump-start my intestines. I was given something to forget the length of time that I spent on the ECMO; I don't remember any of that time, except that I had millions of dreams. I remember wanting to escape, but I could not walk or talk at the time. I had been given many anxiety drugs, pain meds, and Fentanyl patches.
After getting all of my infections under control I was sent to RML Specialty Hospital, to ween me off the ventilator and all of the drugs that I was on. I arrived there on June 4th, and finally, on June 11th, I was taken off of the vent. I still had the trachea and was still unable to speak. (I was able to downsize to a smaller trachea in 2 days of being there, and the smaller device allowed me to finally speak to my family)
What a relief .. all of this time that I had spent alone, I was barely able to text as I was just too weak and shaky. This virus had basically caused havoc in most areas of my body, not to mention almost taking my life.
On the 16th of June, the trachea was finally removed; where the tube had been, was now just a hole in my neck. On the 19th I began taking the steps to learn to walk again. I was moved to Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Illinois, where I would begin my rehabilitation to re-learn everything that I knew how to do prior to being touched by COVID-19. (Things that we all take for granted; walking, talking, etc)
The first day that I spent with my Physical Therapist was spent making goals. All of her goals for me, included me going home with a walker or cane. Once I knew what steps would be required of me, to make a full recovery, I looked at my PT and told her that my goal was to walk out of there with nothing! (No cane and no walker) She replied, "if that's your goal, then that is my goal as well". It was a long hard recovery, there was nothing easy about it: I pushed hard never wanting to rest in therapy. (I think I was embarrassed that I couldn't walk or stand for a long time.) My doctor had to tell me to slow down as my heart rate was as high as 160 bpm, although I couldn't feel it, I just knew I was short of breath and tired a lot. (At the writing of this story, October 18th, my heart-rate is better, but does jump to 120 during rest, even months and months later)
I DID IT!! I am proud to say that I walked on my own, to the amazement of many.
So when I was released, on July 1st-72 days after my nightmare with COVID-19 began, all of the nurses who took care of me in ICU, lined the sidewalk outside, to meet me and see me off. They had never seen me with my eyes open. What an emotional experience! One of my rehab nurses came into my room the day I was leaving and gave me a huge hug. (I am in tears writing this.)
A few side notes, I was interviewed by some Chicago news-stations, while I was in rehab, and was called Hollywood, but my only reason for doing the interviews is to help spread awareness about this virus. For those who continue to say that COVID-19 is comparable to the flu... I just hope that you and your family never have to be shown, personally, that they are nothing alike! #CoronavirusNOTliketheflu
In closing, Diane, Barb, and Jordan are all ok today. Barb had the least symptoms of the four of us, and we are grateful to say that she never required a ventilator. Diane and Jordan are experiencing slight after-effects, including hair loss and my son is now on heart medication due to a lasting after-effect of a high heart rate.
It is just unbelievable to me, that we were all in the same hospital and rehab hospital, for different lengths of time. As for my after-effects, I still struggle with strength issues, chronic pain, soreness, high heart rate, shortness of breath at times and my emotions are everywhere.
Only by the grace of God, are my family and me here to tell our story today. I believe that I brought COVID-19 home to my loved ones, and I don't know what I would have done if any of them had not made it through. We are truly blessed!! My message to all about COVID-19 is to take it seriously. Please just wear the mask, it's not that hard. And please....believe that this virus is NO JOKE!
Me, on a trachea. tube. a very scary experience.
Diane and I in happier, healthier days, PRE-COVID-19
Me, today, feeling better but wearing a very clear message on me these days....#CoronavirusNOTliketheflu
All of the nurses that helped take care of me were waiting outside to see me off. (They had not seen me with my eyes open, until now)
One of the best days of my life, July 1st, 2020, I WENT HOME AND ACCOMPLISHED MY GOAL- I DID IT WITHOUT A CANE OR WALKER!
Seeing my wife and son again, for the very first time in over 60 days... my heart is so full of happiness in this photo.