Thank You for Saving My Husband’s Life

Kathy Kwasniewski’s handwritten letter to the practitioners, nurses and other patient care staff at Bassett Medical Center began with, “My very dear friends and heroes … I want to thank you for saving my husband’s life.” Kathy wrote those words on May 4, 2020, a week after her husband Bill was discharged following 28 days in the hospital because of COVID-19. 

Kathy & Bill Kwasniewski

“I took Bill to the Herkimer COVID testing tent April 2 because he seemed so sick,” recalls Kathy. “He had a fever of 101, body aches and some nausea. He wasn’t eating and had no energy. At first, they suspected Bill had influenza because flu was prevalent at the time and he never had any obvious trouble breathing.”

However, when Kwasniewski’s blood oxygen level was tested the results showed it was dangerously low. He was sent to the emergency department at Bassett Medical Center and admitted that day to the intensive care unit.  

Dr. Elizabeth Jacob, a second year surgical resident, was among the physicians who treated Kwasniewski during his hospital stay. 

“Initially, it appeared Mr. Kwasniewski was holding his own,” says Jacob. “However, his oxygen levels worsened in the first 24 hours and it became clear he needed the breathing support of a mechanical ventilator.”

Kathy, who couldn’t be at her husband’s bedside because of the coronavirus visitor restrictions, learned the next day that Bill had been intubated overnight.

“He was on a ventilator for two weeks. It was such a scary time,” says Kathy. 

The nurses caring for her husband connected the couple through a Zoom video call. Even when Bill was sedated, Kathy could still talk to him, see him and ask questions of the nurses throughout his hospital stay.

“I used to pretend I was holding his hand and talk to him; it was tremendously helpful, and everyone was so wonderful. I remember calling at 4 a.m. one morning to see how Bill was doing and the nurse, after answering my questions, asked if I was taking care of myself. She encouraged me to get the rest and nutrition I needed. They were all so caring and supportive.”

Kwasniewki’s recovery was slow, and it was a tremendously difficult time for Kathy and other loved ones who couldn’t be at Bill’s bedside. 

“I wasn’t sure he was going to live. When he had a bad day, I would tell our very large family, ‘just pray harder.’”

Jacob remembers talking to Kathy at different points during Bill’s care. “It can be tremendously frustrating to be separated from a loved one at such a difficult time. Kathy was always very gracious. She stands out as one of the people who was very understanding of the situation,” says Jacob.

Kwasniewski did improve and once he was aware enough to answer questions and give the doctor the thumbs up, he was taken off the ventilator. He was soon able to eat and steadily gained strength.

“We were so excited when he was discharged to a rehabilitation center. He spent nine days there and walked out of rehab without even needing a cane!”

Kathy’s letter thanking her husband’s team of doctors, nurses, residents and other staff was circulated among the group. Jacob says the team involved in Kwasniewski’s care remembers him quite well.

“We don’t often hear how patients are doing after they leave the hospital, so it is really great to hear how well he’s doing.”

The Kwasniewski’s aren’t sure how Bill contracted COVID-19. Both are 70 years old and consider themselves relatively healthy. Their high blood pressure is controlled with medication and although prediabetic, both stay active and enjoy hiking, snowshoeing and kayaking.

At this writing, Bill was still going to physical therapy two times a week and using a spirometer to exercise his lungs. “He is motivated and working hard to regain his strength,” says Kathy.

“You all work so hard with the sickest patients. I want you to know how far he has come and how grateful his (very large) family is for your dedication and service; that you were able to return to us a beloved husband, brother, father, grandfather (of 9), uncle, friend. Thank you and God bless you all.”

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