MEDINA, Ohio — Throughout the COVID-19 ordeal, there has been a focus on hospital heroes, including doctors and nurses, on the front lines of the pandemic.
But an Ashland County couple believes another hospital worker, Cleveland Clinic chaplain Brent Raitz, helped create a miracle through his support and spirituality.
"I'm not really sure what I would have done without him. He was like my guardian angel being there," said Jennifer Manges.
Jennifer and her now husband, Erik Manges, of Sullivan, caught the virus in August when they were engaged.
They both went to the Medina Hospital emergency room three different times for high fevers and for IV fluids, but on the third occasion, Erik was hospitalized due to low oxygen.
A few days later, his condition worsened and he was moved to the intensive care unit where he went into respiratory failure shortly after getting up to use the bathroom.
"It ended up turning into an emergency situation where they did vent him," Jennifer said.
By the next day, doctors began the process of transferring Erik by medical helicopter to Cleveland Clinic's main campus, but the move came with grim news. Jennifer was informed Erik only had about a 5% chance of survival.
"It was probably the hardest day of my life to be honest, not knowing, just not knowing what was going to happen," Jennifer said.
Erik told News 5 he recalled having trouble breathing at Medina Hospital, but then his mind seemingly went blank.
"It just seemed like I was living a dream, the same dream like a full month," he said.
In the ICU at main campus, Erik was placed on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine that adds oxygen to the blood.
Around this time, chaplain Raitz began meeting with Jennifer and the two formed a close bond.
"I visited with them a couple of times just to offer support and to encourage him and to pray with them," Raitz said.
Erik remained on ECMO for four days with doctors still uncertain if he would live, but he slowly began to improve and was taken off the machine.
Jennifer said the frequent support from Raitz made a huge difference for her family.
"We prayed. We prayed a lot. I can't even tell you. I've never prayed so much in my life," she said.
As Erik continued to get better, he proposed again to Jennifer and said he wanted to move up their wedding date to November of 2021 instead of January of 2022.
Jennifer agreed, but made one request of Erik: find someone to officiate the ceremony in front of 80 guests in Lodi.
After nearly seven weeks at Cleveland Clinic, Erik found his man on the same day he was leaving the hospital before heading to Edwin Shaw for rehabilitation.
Raitz had stopped in to say goodbye and Erik asked the chaplain if would do the honors.
"It was almost like fate when he came in that day to say goodbye," Erik said.
Raitz gladly accepted the invitation. He pointed out the request was very meaningful because he has prayed with—or for—more than 100 patients who have not survived COVID-19.
"For us, so we few times do we get to see the good outcomes," Raitz said. "It was very exciting for me to be able to do it."
The couple was married by Raitz on Nov. 6. They plan to go on an Alaskan cruise in March for their honeymoon.
Jennifer said having Raitz pronounce them man and wife was a full-circle special moment.
"I wouldn't have picked anybody else, anybody else in the world I wouldn't have do it," she said.
The couple said they did not have health issues prior to catching the virus and they participated in triathlons. They weren't against the vaccine, but felt they were healthy and made the choice not to get the shots.
After their ordeal, they have changed their minds and are now vaccinated.
"If we would have gotten it earlier, maybe he wouldn't have gotten sick. That's a struggle we deal with," Jennifer said.
"I think I've changed some people's mind— family members and friends. I would definitely say people should consider getting the vaccine if they haven't already," Erik said.
The newlyweds, who have three children from previous relationships, feel grateful for their second chance and stressed they're counting their blessings.
"I'm glad to be alive," Erik said. "I have a different perspective on things, just glad to be alive."