ORLANDO, Fla. – One year ago, an Orlando man woke up from a COVID-19 coma after receiving convalescent plasma.
Kevin Rathel said COVID-19 brain is real.
When we first learned about Kevin and Stacie Rathel, it was because they had just gone through some of the worst days of their lives.
It was April 2020 and the Orlando couple had both been feeling pretty lousy. At the time, their symptoms were consistent with what the coronavirus had been doing to other people. The couple went to Orlando Health to get answers.
“Well he had trouble breathing, I didn’t have.. it didn’t hit me quite in that way,” Stacie Rathel said.
Whatever it was, it had manifested itself differently in Kevin Rathel. While Stacie Rathel went home to recover from what was a bad flu, doctors at Orlando Health admitted Kevin, saying he was too sick to go home.
“They started treating him for pneumonia,” Stacie Rathel said.
“Doctors have learned a lot in the year, it wasn’t actually pneumonia, and they’re doing things differently for people,“she explained
Her husband would eventually end up on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma.
Kevin Rathel said he is grateful Stacie Rathel was the one who got to go home because she was also the one who was his voice when it came to experimental treatments. At the time, no one was really sure if convalescent plasma would really work. But Stacie Rathel said she was going to do whatever she could to save her husband.
That’s when fate and Facebook stepped in. James Crocker, of South Florida, saw a post by one of his friends who was also friends with the couple.
It turns out Crocker, a former COVID-19 patient, was a match for Kevin.
Kevin Rathel said Stacie Rathel deserves the credit for getting the word out.
“We’ve had people calling us and emailing us and texting us, you know, throughout this whole year thanking us and she’s helped a bunch of other people that are in the same circumstances to get their spouse or loved one convalescent plasma.”
The couple said convalescent plasma put him on the road to recovery. Not long after receiving the plasma, Kevin came out of his week-long coma. He woke up on Easter morning. They call it their Easter miracle.
Waking up was just the beginning. Now, Kevin had to start his road to recovery. When he left the hospital after 3 weeks, Kevin could barely walk.
“You lose a lot of muscle mass when you’re in the hospital and then an induced coma. So just getting your muscle back is very difficult, especially when you’re 50, and you know lung capacity being able to breathe and actually get out there and work out or move around so that you can, you know, try to get that muscle back.”
Kevin is what doctors call a long-hauler. Someone who still has the effects of COVID-19 long after the virus has left their body.
Kevin was determined. He began walking around the house. Then he started walking outside. It has taken a while but Kevin says he can now walk 4 to 6 miles a day.
“You got to get up off the couch and start moving around even though you don’t want to and start moving around again because when you sit still, you know, it’s the worst thing for you. Whatever you do, get up, keep moving however you can.”
Getting physically stronger is something he can do something about. What he can’t control is what many survivors call COVID-19 brain.
Here is how he described COVID-19 brain.
“You can’t remember words that you’re trying to say normally just can’t recall. You’re more forgetful. You’re like, where am I going? You walk into the other room that you’re going to say go pick up your glasses, you know. Normally, you might do that a couple of times a month, you know, oh, what was I going to do but you know when you have a foggy brain it could be an everyday occurrence or multiple-day occurrence. You know, just things like that. So that was difficult, and that has been difficult.”
It’s one of the common symptoms long-haulers complain about. Kevin said just two months ago when he went to see a doctor he was told COVID brain doesn’t exist.
“One of the things long-haulers everywhere have expressed is a frustration that doctors aren’t hearing what they are saying and not paying attention or listening or saying that they’re making this up. And he went to a doctor that said, yeah COVID brain, that’s not a thing,” Stacie Rathel said.
The couple said they understand doctors have to do more research and they don’t know everything yet.
While both Kevin Rathel and Stacie Rathel are still recovering they are also still helping. They haven’t gotten vaccinated yet because they have antibodies and continue to donate their plasma so others might have a fighting chance.
They are grateful Kevin got another chance and is still here to share his story and give others hope.