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'I had to get through this': Winnipeg man out of ICU for COVID-19
Rick Sterzer appears in an undated image. The retired firefighter spent 18 days in the intensive care unit battling COVID-19 and was recently moved out of intensive care. (Photo courtesy Dylan Sterzer)
WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg man battling COVID-19 celebrated a major milestone in his treatment on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Rick Sterzer, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in April, and had been in the intensive care unit at St. Boniface Hospital since April 4, finally improved enough to be moved out of the ICU and into a regular COVID-19 patient ward.
His son Dylan posted a video on Facebook to mark the occasion, thanking health care workers.
“After 18 long days we finally have some very positive news,” Dylan wrote. “He will still be in hospital but at least we can rest on the fact that his health is progressing.”
Speaking with CTV on Wednesday over the phone, Rick praised the staff in the ICU at the hospital for the care he received.
“The staff are just so tremendous and caring and encouraging,” he said.
SYMPTOMS APPEARED ON VACATION
Rick and his wife had planned a European cruise for two years and set sail from Fort Lauderdale on March 5 for a planned European cruise.
However, a week later, the Canadian government urged Canadians to cancel travel plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing Rick and his family to cut their trip short. The couple flew out of France on March 19, arriving back in Winnipeg 36 hours later.
During his time on the ship, Rick was feeling ill. Passengers were quarantined to their rooms and were being monitored for symptoms.
“I was sick, I was fatigued and cramps and headaches,” he said. “I didn’t have any fever, so I thought it was something else.”
When he got home and was self-isolating, the symptoms were getting worse. He asked his wife to phone Health Links to get tested for COVID-19.
While the first COVID-19 test he took came back negative, Rick said his symptoms were still not going away, and he went for a second test on April 2, which came back positive.
He was admitted to hospital in a special ward for COVID-19 patients, and was then transferred to the ICU on April 4.
During his time in the ICU, Rick at one point had to be placed on a high-flow oxygen distributor to assist with breathing.
“I wasn’t intubated, I never was on a ventilator, but I was that close to it,” he said. “The next step would have been intubation.”
THANKFUL FOR SUPPORT
During his time in the hospital, Rick, a retired firefighter, received a special visit outside of the hospital from his colleagues from the United Firefighters Union.
Members used a ladder truck to get on the portion of the roof near his window (hospitals have restricted visitors due to the pandemic) to hang a flag outside of his window.
(Photo source: United Firefighters of Winnipeg)
Rick said he appreciated the gesture, as it lifted his spirits during “his worst moment” of the illness.
“Stuff like that and the encouragement I got from friends, and family and neighbours, it’s just overwhelming,” he said. “Wherever I turned, people had my back.
“I had to get through this because there were too many people counting on me.”
LONG ROAD AHEAD
While his condition is improving, Rick is still not out of the woods yet. He is still on oxygen, and he is working to repair his lungs enough to be able to head home.
“The doctor said it could be up to a couple of weeks,” he said.
When he is discharged, Rick said he will likely be on oxygen at home for at least another month or two until he fully recovers.
He wants Manitobans to take the virus seriously, including practicing physical distancing and self-isolation.
“If we’re going to beat this thing, we have to be vigilant, and we all have to work at it together,” he said. “It’s not something some of us can do and some can’t. This thing, it’s going to take all of us to get rid of it.”