Loyola Medicine’s First Hospitalized COVID-19 Patient is Fully Recovered and Feeling Like He’s “40 Again”
Ted Roberts, 68, is living his best life. He walks seven miles each morning near his home in St. Charles, Illinois; continues to work full time; and says he feels like he’s “40 again and my body is running on rocket fuel.”
It’s hard to believe that just six months ago, Roberts contracted a near-fatal case of COVID-19, becoming the first patient with the disease to be admitted to Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), and the first patient at Loyola to receive the test drug remdesivir. During his hospitalization, Roberts, a Type 1 diabetic with broader autoimmune disease, spent nearly two weeks in the intensive care unit and 10 days on a ventilator.
It was on March 3, 2020, when Roberts, a retail consultant, was on a business trip in Maine where he believes he contracted the disease from a coworker. He says he began to feel sick later that same evening, but continued with his trip, driving to Rhode Island and Massachusetts before returning to Chicago.
On his way home from the airport, he called his wife of 43 years, Ellen Roberts, who was going to watch two of the couple’s grandchildren. Roberts asked her to watch the children at the home of their son and his wife and that she should plan to spend the night there until he felt better.
“Subconsciously, I knew I was really sick,” said Roberts.
By March 11, Roberts says he was “physically and mentally melting down” from coronavirus. Ellen drove him 42 miles to the LUMC emergency department where he was admitted to the hospital with declining blood oxygen levels. Soon after, he was transferred to the ICU and placed on a ventilator, under the care of Shruti Patel, MD.
Loyola’s medical team was led by pulmonologist Kevin Simpson, MD. He told Ellen on the morning of March 12 that she should notify the family about Roberts’ dire condition.
On March 13, his test came back positive for COVID-19.
Ellen remembers talking with her sons, Michael and Charlie, about the possibility that their father may not survive the illness. The family even discussed funeral plans.
During Roberts’ hospitalization, Dr. Simpson and the medical team at Loyola “were wonderful,” said Ellen. Dr. Simpson called every day with an update on her husband’s condition, and the nursing staff checked in regularly with additional information.
Ellen visited Roberts in the hospital while wearing full protective gear. “I held his hand and kissed him hello, but there were no signs of life in him.”
Finally, by day eight or nine, Roberts’ condition began to improve. He was taken off the ventilator on day 10 of his hospitalization.
As he began to recover, the nurses helped him to regain his ability to move and walk again. Roberts’ hospitalization and treatment were so early on in the pandemic, there were no formal rehabilitation protocols in place yet for COVID-19 survivors. Once home, a physical therapist visited Roberts; however, it soon became clear that he was rapidly improving. He used a walker for just three days.
In fact, less than one month after his discharge, Roberts was “back to full strength or better, and with no side effects.” He has even been able to drop three of his daily medications, including two for high blood pressure.
“There’s no doubt that Dr. Simpson saved Ted’s life,” said Ellen.
“My family and I believe, based on conversation with other doctors and medical personnel, that if I were not at Loyola University Medical Center and under the care of Dr. Kevin Simpson, I most likely would not have survived those first critical days,” said Roberts. “I am in awe of the respect Dr. Simpson receives from his peers for his medical knowledge.” Dr. Simpson is also “a compassionate man with a huge heart.”
During his hospital stay, “every doctor, nurse, technician and assistant that worked with me treated me like family, caring and loving. That is Loyola! I wish I knew every one of their names so I could personally thank them,” said Roberts.
Roberts credits his recovery to his “great love of life,” “my doctors at Loyola over the past 19 or 20 years,” and remdesivir. Roberts said he has seen many doctors over the past two decades, but specifically called out “the great care and education” he received from his endocrinologist Gerald A. Charnogursky, MD; internist Leo Hall, MD; cardiologists William Jacobs, MD and Lowell Steen, MD; and gastroenterologist Mukund Venu, MD.
Now he is giving back, regularly returning to Loyola to provide blood antibodies for a clinical trial, overseen by Loyola physician Gail Reid, MD, that is aiding in the study of COVID-19 antibodies and creation of a coronavirus vaccine. Ellen and two of their sons, Michael, and Charlie, who both tested positive for COVID-19 yet with minimal or no symptoms, are also participating in the study.
And today, Ted and Ellen, who met in grade school and agreed to marry on their first date in college, are now making new plans for their future. They hope to move later this year to a smaller home in nearby Geneva, Illinois, and to continue enjoying and participating in the lives of their four children and seven grandchildren, including their newest grandchild who was born in April.
“My story is truly a Loyola story,” said Roberts. “I am forever grateful.”