AKRON, Ohio — Sitting at a dining room table and looking at their 2003 framed wedding photo, John and Angel Whorton realized those 17-year-old vows-- including for better, for worse, and in sickness and in health-- have never been more meaningful after what they experienced over the past year.
"That's a for-real vow," John Whorton said.
In March 2020, Angel Whorton, a teacher at Akron's IPromise School, finished chemotherapy for breast cancer. In July, she had a double mastectomy at Summa Akron City Hospital.
Around the same time, John Whorton started coughing and struggled to catch his breath.
He was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was taken to the same Akron hospital about a week after her surgery. Whorton recalls what his wife said to him before he was admitted into the intensive care unit.
"She said, 'You saw me fight Cancer. You better fight like a girl! You hear me? You better fight like a girl! Don't let them put you on a ventilator.' I'm like, 'I'm not. They're not going to put me on a ventilator.'"
But a day later, his condition worsened and the 42-year-old father of two from Fairlawn was placed on a ventilator and remained in the ICU for more than three weeks.
Whorton "coded" on two different days and was revived by doctors.
"It's not something I would wish for anyone," he said.
Over the summer, the couple's love story played out daily with Angel Whorton, along with other family members and friends, gathering on the hospital lawn outside John's window to pray and speak to him through a video system.
On their anniversary, Angel sang the song "Anniversary" by Tony Toni Tone as a nurse held up a phone up to John's side.
Two days after the serenade, there was jubilation when John was released and moved to a rehabilitation facility where he remained for two more months.
"I just know that I had to fight for him and I had to fight for my two kids because I was not going to tell them the story about the time that summer that their father was taken from them from this disease," Whorton said.
John Whorton still has a long way to go. He continues to deal with health issues, including heart trouble, caused by the virus. He said his heart strength was at 30% at one point. It's now up to 65%.
"I'm what they call a long-hauler," Whorton said. "I still have balance issues at times, difficulty catching my breath.
Whorton also belongs to a COVID-19 support group that meets through Zoom meetings.
"My mentality is I'm here to experience this. I'm here to be tired. The alternative was to not be here," he said. "We're past 500,000 deaths in the United States from this pandemic. That's a large number so I could have been one of them, but I'm not."
Angel Whorton, who relied on her faith during the difficult year, is also counting her blessings.
"By the grace of God, we're sitting here right now," she said. "It's that message that because of God, but God. There's no other explanation."
Because of his severe complications from the coronavirus, he was eligible for the vaccine. He has received his first shot. Angel Whorton has received two shots, which were offered to employees in the Akron Public School District.
John Whorton is continuing to focus on small victories as he strives to get back to where he was before COVID-19. He stressed his breathing is better and he's talking very well compared to where he was last summer.
"I want to get healthy. I want to get all the way healthy. I want to go somewhere. I want to do something, just enjoy the family."