'It was a miracle': COVID-19 survivor recounts his unexpected recovery at Delnor
Scenes of a funeral played out in Heidi Herbert's mind as she listened to a doctor describe her husband's declining condition.
His oxygen levels were dropping. He was struggling to breathe. He needed to be sedated and put on a ventilator right away, and there was a chance he would never wake up.
It had been three days since 49-year-old Michael Herbert was admitted to Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva and tested for the coronavirus. With no visitors allowed due to the pandemic, Heidi and her two daughters would sit in the parking lot to be as close to him as possible, praying for his recovery and hoping for the best.
But on March 27, they got a FaceTime call from Michael Herbert and his doctor, who explained that he had been moved to the intensive care unit and was about to undergo an aggressive treatment plan.
His chance of survival was 20%, they said. It was time to say goodbye.
"I was just completely focused on, 'I want to see my family. I want to live,'" Herbert said. "It was the scariest phone call I ever had to make."
The Aurora attorney's symptoms started the weekend of March 20 with a bad cough, then a fever. The following Monday, his cough had gotten so severe that he wasn't able to sleep. So he and his wife got up early Tuesday and drove to the emergency room.
Initially diagnosed with pneumonia, Herbert spent the next few days in a regular hospital room before he was relocated to the ICU and put on the ventilator. His family continued their daily visits to the hospital parking lot and checked in with his health care team every morning and night. His oldest daughter, 18-year-old Reagan, kept a journal of every update they received, no matter how small.
A couple of days after Herbert was intubated, a nurse decided to FaceTime his family so they could talk to him. Despite his comatose state, Herbert's facial expressions showed he recognized their voices, Heidi said, and he even flashed "I love you" in sign language -- a special gesture he and Reagan have done since she was little.
Herbert doesn't remember that interaction, but it gave his wife and kids some peace of mind.
"Those doctors and nurses at Delnor were like Mike's family -- an extension of our family because we couldn't visit," Heidi said. "They were so good to me."
Herbert felt weak and disoriented when he regained consciousness April 1, but he can remember using a marker to ask his doctors if they could remove the tube from his throat. He appeared to be doing well, the physicians told his wife, but they wanted to be very careful not to rush his recovery.
That's why Heidi and her daughters were shocked when they got a FaceTime call from Herbert the next day. He had just been taken off the ventilator -- eight days earlier than expected -- and wanted to say a quick and raspy "hello."
"We were thrilled," his wife said. "We couldn't believe we were really talking to him."
Herbert had no idea how long he had been unconscious and intubated until the doctors told him it was April 2 -- his mother's birthday. She was his first phone call.
As his condition improved, Herbert was moved out of the ICU and placed in a private room with a window. His family was able to drive within his view, get out of the car and wave. It was "a billion times better than FaceTime," he said.
By April 5, he could make it through the night without relying on oxygen. The following day, he was cleared to go home.
Herbert walked with a cane at first and isolated himself for two weeks. His lungs are still weaker than usual, his voice still a little raspy.
But as he grows stronger each day, parts of his life have begun returning to normal. He started going back to work as a real estate attorney. He's able to be with his family again. He even dropped off meals at Delnor this week to thank the ICU staff members for saving his life.
"I firmly believe that God healed me and gave the skills to the doctors and nurses that they needed to do this," Herbert said. "I had a one out of five chance of living, and I was out of the hospital in two weeks. It was a miracle."