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Don Force celebrates his birthday and his recovery from COVID-19 by going home

Don Force therapy in ReCOVery Unit

Don's rehabilitation included working with physical therapists Chris Boer, right, and Sean Murphy on the SCIFit Step One recumbent stepper. The technology was used to help Don improve his cardiopulmonary status, while Chris and Sean closely monitored his vital signs.

Don Force walking in the ReCOVery Unit

Chris measures how far Don can walk down the hallway.

Don Force with therapy team in ReCOVery Unit

Making his birthday even more special? Don shares it with his Mary Free Bed respiratory therapist, Molly Bennett, pictured next to Don with other members of his care team.

Don Force in ReCOVery Unit

Don Force offers a thumbs up after he graduated from Mary Free Bed’s inpatient ReCOVery Unit.

Don Force therapy in ReCOVery Unit
Don Force walking in the ReCOVery Unit
Don Force with therapy team in ReCOVery Unit
Don Force in ReCOVery Unit

When Don Force marked his 61st birthday on April 28, his wish came true.

“Going home on my birthday is the best gift ever,” said Don, who was hospitalized since March 29, battling COVID-19. After a month away, Don discharged from Mary Free Bed’s ReCOVery Unit and headed home to Howard City. He’s the first patient with COVID-19 admitted to the new unit for those who need intensive rehabilitation and the second one to graduate.

A retired tow truck driver, Don developed a cough in mid-March that grew steadily worse. Then one night, he had trouble breathing and was taken to the Spectrum Health’s emergency department. He later tested positive for COVID-19 and his condition deteriorated. He spent 10 days in the ICU on a ventilator, fighting for his life.

While he doesn’t remember much from his time in the acute-care hospital, he slowly began to recover and was well enough to transfer to Mary Free Bed on April 16. He spent the next 12 days participating in aggressive rehabilitation to regain enough independence to return home.

His care plan included physical therapy for balance, walking, transfers, lower-body strength and endurance, and targeted respiratory exercises. Occupational therapy focused on self-care, pacing, upper-body strength and endurance. He also worked with speech-language pathologists on swallowing, voice articulation, cognition and memory challenges caused by prolonged hospitalization.

“Don was a great person to work with,” said physical therapist Chris Boer. “He was eager from day one to work hard, because he wanted to get home to his wife and cat. He was fun and had a great sense of humor.

“We set goals every week to work towards, and Don wanted to exceed those goals every time.”

When his team planned Don’s graduation date, they didn’t know April 28 held special meaning.

“He said it was the best birthday present he’s had,” Chris said. “We were proud to help him achieve his goals … proud to help get him home.”

As he left Mary Free Bed, Don said he’s looking forward to spending time with his wife of 42 years, Cindy, and their cat, Deeks.

“I’m going home where I belong,” Don said. “My wife, my cat and my chair are waiting for me.”

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