MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- There are more than 32,000 Minnesotans who have survived COVID-19, and 51-year-old Rick Huggins is one of them. He was in his 50s, healthy and had no underlying health conditions, but none of that mattered when he got sick and ended up at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul.
"I lost 35 pounds, I had nine blood transfusions, I had kidney dialysis three times," he said.
Before his COVID-19 complications, it all began so mildly.
"I started feeling a tickle in my throat," he said.
He ended up visiting the emergency room with a 105-degree fever. He texted to his wife that they were going to intubate him and that it might be a day or two before they could speak. Rick said it ended up being 30 days on the ventilator.
Rick was taken to Bethesda Hospital March 26. It had opened that day as an emergency COVID-19 center.
"I broke down, I was scared," Patty Huggins said.
Rick Huggins was one of the first patients at Bethesda. Emily Allen was his nurse.
"It's hard not to get emotional. He was one of the sickest patients that we had," Allen said.
Rick Huggins says that the experience for him was a 30-day nap that he doesn't remember anything from, but Patty Huggins remembers every minute. She said through tears, in a video posted to her Facebook April 12, "I got to see him without being on a ventilator he was talking."
There were many dark days while Rick Huggins faced one of the toughest battles for any COVID-19 patient, called a cytokine storm. Rick Huggins' body was producing cells that were feasting on his remaining healthy tissue.
"It's a basically a huge inflammatory response to the virus," Allen said. "I would just sit there outside his door and just pray. 'Come on Rick, come on Rick, please pull through.'"
Patty Huggins had to tell her two young adult children.
"Trying to talk to the kids about what may happen was the hardest thing I have had to do," she said.
And then Rick Huggins started getting better. Allen said it was a miracle, and a highlight for the entire hospital.
But survival has taken its toll on Rick Huggins, who had no underlying conditions and had gone on a 60-mile bike trip the week before getting sick.
"I had to learn to walk again," he said. "I still have months and months of getting better."
The Hugginses have become friends with Allen, and together they have become COVID-19 messengers, spreading word to continue social distancing and wear a mask.
"Not wearing your mask is not a constitutional right," Rick Huggins said.
And for the sickest of the sick COVID-19 patients, he has a message. He wrote a letter to the patient who followed him at Bethesda's room 582: "Don't give up and fight like hell."
Rick Huggins has no idea how he got COVID-19. Monday, after four months of being sick, he'll start work again at AT&T. Like many, he'll work from home.
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