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Leaving the hospital isn’t the end of the battle for some COVID-19 patients

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Posted at 3:54 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-09 17:16:22-04

AURORA, Colo. — Robert Dennis fought and beat the novel coronavirus. Yet, his struggles were not over when he was discharged from the intensive care unit.

For Dennis and a growing number of COVID-19 patients, their fight continues in rehabilitation as they attempt to regain independence and normalcy, something which could last months or years.

“When your lungs have been flattened by a semi, sometimes it’s difficult to re-inflate them,” Dennis told Denver7 after a few deep breaths.

He sat down with Denver7’s Jason Gruenauer at the Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital in Aurora to share his story. The father of three was admitted to the hospital on March 27 with symptoms of COVID-19. He was intubated and placed on a ventilator the next night.

“Thirteen days,” his wife Suzanne said. “Two weeks. In a coma,” Dennis added.

Even though the high school assistant basketball coach eventually beat the virus, the tube was taken out, and he was discharged from Sky Ridge Medical Center, his fight was not over.

“You can lose a lot of muscle mass being on bed rest that long, ventilated,” physical therapist Maureen Boyle said.

For a growing number of patients like Dennis who spent time on a ventilator battling COVID-19, that loss of muscle mass, or atrophy, can lead to a long road of recovery.

“Our bodies decondition really quickly so it takes a lot to build back up,” Boyle said.

The Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital has seen what staff there calls an "influx" of patients like this within the last few weeks, and they expect that to continue.

“Every function in your body has to be retaught,” Dennis said.

Dennis spent three weeks at the hospital, doing three hours of speech and physical therapy every day. He had to re-learn how to walk, to get out of bed, to go up and down stairs, and more.

“Sky Ridge saved my life, but Spalding has given me some life back,” he said.

Friday was Dennis' discharge day.

"When I got here, he called down and said, 'Today is the first day of the rest of our lives,'" his wife told Denver7.

“I know it’s been a really long journey for him to be in the hospital for this long so we’re all happy he can get out of there,” Boyle added.

He told Denver7 the two things he was looking forward to were seeing his two puppies and eating Cane’s chicken.

Dennis will require continued at-home physical therapy for an undetermined amount of time. His main message and advice after taking the next step of his long journey to come: “Wear a mask.”