The COVID-19 pandemic is leaving its mark on central Indiana, with hundreds of new cases reported daily and the death toll continuing to climb.
Most people who develop the disease will recover, but their journeys back to health can look very different.
The following are stories of three Hamilton County residents who battled COVID-19 – and won.
‘Feeling as sick as I’ve ever felt’
Ironically for Kevin Young, a firefighter and paramedic with the Carmel Fire Dept., his exposure to the coronavirus likely occurred during an emergency medical services conference.
The conference occurred just before many events started to be canceled or postponed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and since then nearly half of the 40 attendees from around the nation have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“I think that was the hot zone,” said Young, 40, who lives in Westfield with his wife and three children.
About a week after the conference, Young started developing body aches and a fever, but the symptoms quickly became much worse. By the next day, he developed difficult and painful breathing, coughing and a higher temperature.
By the time he got the results of his test for COVID-19 a few days later, he was pretty sure what the diagnosis would be.
“I had literally every symptom possible by that point,” Young said. “I was feeling as sick as I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Young’s condition deteriorated enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, where he received fluids and antibiotics – that didn’t work – to treat the pneumonia that developed in his lungs. There is no effective treatment for COVID-19 other than managing symptoms, so when Young’s fever started to decrease and his breathing became less labored, he was sent home to continue his recovery.
Young has been home from the hospital for more than a week now and is feeling better every day. He’s still using oxygen to help him breathe and can’t consider going back to work until all of his symptoms subside.
He’s thankful that no one else in his immediate family has developed symptoms and that it didn’t reach his extended family, either.
“This particular type that I had and how bad it was, I think if my father-in-law or dad caught it, it definitely would have killed them,” he said.
Young is one of six Carmel firefighters to test positive for COVID-19.
“It was awful for me, but then I’ve heard from a bunch of other firefighters that have caught it that it was a lot more mild for them,” he said. “I was the unlucky one.”
‘I thought I was having a heart attack’
Jeff Schultz is thankful to be bored.
He considers it a blessing, as not too long ago he was feeling too miserable for ennui, suffering through a very unexpected COVID-19 diagnosis.
Schultz, 53, a Carmel resident and pastor at Faith Church in Indianapolis, woke up March 24 with weakness, a fever and extreme fatigue. At the time, he didn’t suspect the coronavirus.
“Walking 5 feet into our bathroom, I almost passed out. I thought I was having a heart attack,” Schultz said. “It wasn’t trouble breathing. I was just so wiped out I could hardly stand on my feet.”
Schultz made a virtual appointment with his doctor, who sent him to a respiratory care clinic. After testing negative for the flu, he took a coronavirus test and went home to wait for his results.
“It’s kind of a weird feeling to go home and take Dayquil and quarantine yourself,” he said. “You sort of have this sense like there should be something more.”
A few days later, he received the phone call confirming his diagnosis. Soon, his fever broke and the fatigue lessened each day. His sense of taste and smell, which had disappeared, began coming back.
For Schultz, who doesn’t know where he became exposed to the virus, the physical isolation was the toughest part. He quarantined himself in his bedroom away from his wife and daughter, who celebrated her 17th birthday soon after his diagnosis.
“I’m not going to get to hug her,” he said. “That’s just hard.”
With the worst of the symptoms behind him, Schultz wonders how those who had COVID-19 will be perceived when life returns to normal.
“Will people who had coronavirus have some sort of stigma attached to that? I hope not,” he said. “To be connected with a global pandemic and economic struggles and isolation, I don’t know that I want to wear that label around in public. Hopefully, people will be understanding that it’s just a disease, nobody did anything to get it and we’re all trying to get through this as best we can together.”
‘It could’ve been anywhere’
Juan Navarette wasn’t feeling well. It started with pressure behind his eyes, then he developed a fever, cold sweats, coughing and shortness of breath.
He began taking medicine to treat bronchitis, but when it didn’t work his employer – the Carmel Police Dept. – scheduled a test for the coronavirus.
Navarette, 32, said he was “shocked” by the results.
“I was definitely not thinking I was going to test positive for COVID,” the Carmel resident said. “I hadn’t been around anybody that had been exposed or that was positive, at least that I knew of, anyway.”
Navarette quarantined himself in his room to avoid exposing his girlfriend and their three children to the virus. So far, none of them have exhibited symptoms, he said.
For Navarette, COVID-19 wasn’t the worst illness he’s had.
“The flu hit me harder than COVID did. COVID was a constant fever and then shortness of breath to the point where walking up and down the stairs I’d have to sit down and try to catch my breath,” he said. “The hardest part about COVID was the isolation, having to stay in one room for 14 days.”
During his quarantine, which included a lot of “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” films, Navarette had time to wonder where he could’ve contracted the virus.
“It could’ve been anywhere,” he said. “It could’ve been when I went and got groceries the Friday before, or a traffic stop the week before. It could’ve been someone I knew or someone I never met other than a short encounter. It definitely makes you think a lot about who you’ve been talking to and who you’ve been around.”
Navarette, who is set to return to work as a patrol officer this week, said support from his family, friends and co-workers provided great encouragement during his isolation.
“Fourteen days seems like a lot, but when you have people there to support you, I think that helps,” he said.