COVID-19 Survivors

Neither a global pandemic nor individual battles with COVID-19 could keep Gearld and Vera Poplin from celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary this summer. They share a look of love for one another in their Coweta home while wearing shirts identifying them as coronavirus survivors. PHOTO COURTESY OF TWYLA POPLIN

“I’m a survivor of COVID.” Those five words are being celebrated by a Coweta couple who has battled the coronavirus and won during a worldwide pandemic.

Vera and Gearld Poplin celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on June 16 – just one day after Gearld was released from Franciscan Villa in Broken Arrow, where he spent 20 days in rehabilitation. Those weeks followed 56 days as a patient at Saint Francis Hospital and PAM Specialty Hospital of Tulsa. From April 2-20, he was on a ventilator.

Gearld’s case of COVID-19 came on rather suddenly. He was out mowing on March 24 when he started coughing. He got to where he wouldn’t eat food or drink water. When it progressively got worse, his doctor advised him to get to the hospital.

He tested for the virus and a positive result came back on April 1 – the same day he was transported by ambulance to Saint Francis.

Within 24 hours, he was placed on a ventilator to help him breathe.

Vera tested positive for COVID-19 on April 1 as well. Two weeks later she tested positive again. It took two negative tests two weeks apart before she could have any interaction with her husband.

The only illness symptoms she experienced came in March when she threw up and had dysentery. She said she never experienced a loss of taste.

Gearld said they had the coronavirus on their minds before they ever got sick. They personally know others who have fought the virus and not all of them have survived.

“The day Gearld went in (to the hospital), the doctor called and said, ‘Let your family know he is in critical condition because he is 77 years old’,” Vera recalled. “At that time he was a little overweight, but also a diabetic. Those three things were against him.”

The ventilator came out on April 20 and Gearld started improving. By April 29, he was ready to move to the PAM Specialty Hospital where he stayed until May 26.

Vera was able to see her husband in person on the day he moved between facilities, but was unable to hug or touch him. She said one of the paramedics took a picture of them together so she could take it home.

During his stay at PAM, the couple was able to visit through a window and talk by telephone.

It wasn’t until May 26 when Gearld was moved to Franciscan Villa for the last phase of his recovery that Vera could give her husband a hug.

“That was the first time we had gotten to touch each other since April 1,” Vera said with a smile. “When he got better, they would bring him out in a wheelchair. I got to see him, but not really close up.”

“One of the doctors at Franciscan Villa told Gearld he is in the 20 percentile that survives the ventilators,” she added. “I don’t know how accurate that is or if it’s for his age group, but I’m glad he did!”

Gearld had it in his mind that he wanted to be home for his anniversary on June 16. He worked hard toward reaching that goal each and every day.

“Their goal was for me to be able take care of myself. They wanted me to be able to stand up, walk, use the restroom, walk back to the bed and be able to get in and out of a car,” he noted. “They helped me and stuck with me.”

On June 12, facility staff members told him he would be going home in a few days.

“It felt like forever for that week to go by,” Gearld admitted. “They kept me busy enough during the day that I could stand it, but at night – from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. – I couldn’t sleep.”

Vera said it was during those times and throughout this entire journey that she and Gearld have relied heavily on their faith in Jesus Christ.

“That’s when I had to do a lot of praying and say, ‘Lord, take care of him. I can’t be there’,” she recalled. “There were some hard days but he was okay because he couldn’t remember them.”

Vera said she is forever grateful for the prayers of many that helped them get through this fight with coronavirus.

“I’m a survivor of COVID. Every time I look at those words, I remember how hard it was,” Vera continued. “I have found strength I didn’t know I had to help Gearld do things like get his shoes on, help him get up and keep up with three meals a day. I say, ‘Oh my Lord, I need help, and He’s given it to me.

“I know eventually we will all die, but I couldn’t stand the thought of Gearld dying from a disease like this.”

The Poplins say they believe many people do not take the virus seriously.

“I hear all these people on Facebook saying it’s a bunch of hooey, but it’s not. It’s serious. Some people have to learn the hard way,” Gearld said. “For the older folks who are 60 and above especially, they better take it more serious than just slough it off. It doesn’t take hardly anything to come down with it.”

As Gearld’s recovery continues, his legs are getting stronger. In fact, Vera said he can walk more now than when he went in the hospital. He enjoys riding on a golf cart and has even gotten back on the riding lawnmower.