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'We're not alone': COVID-19 support group helps survivors cope

COVID support group
Posted at 6:19 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 21:11:20-04

AKRON, Ohio — Dennis Teetzel's battle to beat the coronavirus was a long, tough road that included 76 days in three hospitals, one month in a coma and two months on a ventilator.

In March of 2020, the 56-year-old father from Middleburg Heights experienced symptoms including a fever, cough and fatigue.

He was admitted into Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital where he was diagnosed with COVID-19, double pneumonia and respiratory failure.

Teetzel developed several other complications, including blood clots, sepsis and a right lung collapse.

He didn't realize the seriousness of his condition because he was placed under a medically induced coma on March 22. His next realization of "being alive" was waking up on his birthday about four weeks later on his birthday, April 21.

"I'm hearing the horror stories of what I went through and it's very surreal to hear," Teetzel said.

Much to his shock, Teetzel would later learn that doctors—at one point—didn't think he would survive.

"They had a meeting with my wife and my mother-in-law and my daughter and all of the 12 doctors in the room, and my physician was online and they discussed shutting off the machines and calling Hospice and letting me go," Teetzel said.

By late April, Teetzel stabilized and was transferred to Select Specialty Hospital Cleveland Fairhill where the team slowly started him on liquids and easily digestible foods.

In May, he moved to Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital Edwin Shaw in Copley where he received care to improve his strength, stamina and daily living skills.

"I got back to work in mid-to-late September," Teetzel said.

Teetzel is now part of a COVID-19 support group which gets together by Zoom on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. The members talk about their problems and progress, while guest speakers provide the latest information on the effects the virus as well as medical breakthrough treatments.

It was created by Christine Bailey, a recreational therapist at the Edwin Shaw facility.

Teetzel said the connections formed by the group have become very special, helping the patients or former patients realize that "we're not alone" in the struggle with the virus.

"We all want to get together because we think we're going to be friends for life because we all have a common bond through near-death experiences," he said. "It just makes you know that you're not alone. You have somebody else that has gone through the same thing and you don't feel like you're going crazy."

Jessica Burger, a physical therapist who takes part in the meetings, has witnessed the value of the shared experiences.

"While most of us would agree that COVID is not a positive thing, what has come from this has definitely been positive," Burger said.

Teetzel still faces physical challenges as a result of COVID-19, including trouble lifting his left foot (drop foot), numbness in his right arm and shortness of breath. Doctors have told him that he may never have full lung capacity.

However, he's still very quick to count his blessings.

"If you have pain, it means you're alive," he said with a smile.

Teetzel plans to carry on that positive attitude a year after COVID and when he gets together virtually, or in person, with his new buddies.

"We all joke with each other about things that are going on because we made it. We are sad that so many people didn't make it."

The COVID-19 support group is open to anyone who has been affected by the virus in one way or another. There is no requirement to be a patient or a former patient.

Those interested should contact Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital Edwin Shaw at 234-815-5100 or email Christine Bailey at cmbailey@clevelandclinicrehab.com.