After fighting and winning his battle against COVID-19, Albert LaDuke is back home with his family and the things he enjoys – especially his scratch-off tickets. His treatment and rehabilitation at the UVM Health Network helped him build strength and independence so he could return home.

When Mr. LaDuke, 86, first arrived at UVM Health Network – Elizabethtown Community Hospital (ECH), he was very weak and had trouble walking. He was transferred to ECH after more than three weeks in intensive care at the UVM Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH) in Plattsburgh. And it was also the first opportunity his family had to visit with him. “He loves scratch tickets, and when I asked the nursing staff if they could bring him some tickets I bought, they invited us to visit with him outside his window,” says Mary LaDuke, Albert LaDuke’s daughter-in-law. The family walked outside the single-story hospital to knock on LaDuke’s window.

“He had tears in his eyes when he saw us,” says Mary LaDuke. “For the first time we had a visual of how he looked. He had says that his time in the ICU was a ‘very rough road’ and he didn’t think he was going to make it. Well, he did make it, but this illness was traumatizing.”

Receiving treatment in isolation was a difficult experience for both LaDuke and his family. LaDuke was grateful for the creativity of ECH’s nursing staff to help keep the family connected. Despite rain and snow, the family gathered regularly outside his window to brighten his spirits. LaDuke’s sole grandchild, his 26-year-old grandson, crafted a sign to hang by his bedside that read “We miss you Pepe.”

While the LaDukes focused on reconnecting their family through this separation, the care team addressed LaDuke’s rehabilitation needs to get him back home. “We have a lot of experience helping patients recuperate after surgery or illness through in-hospital physical, occupational, and speech therapy,” says ECH Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Julie Tromblee. “It’s what we do. And we are well-suited to care for patients recovering from COVID in a safe and isolated environment.”

ECH’s nursing and physical therapy staff agree. Dr. Michael Theeman, physical therapist, says his team was prepared to meet the challenges of working with patients recovering from COVID. “We were well informed and had lots of training on how to prevent the spread of the virus in the physical therapy setting. We stepped up safety precautions in the facility to be able to help Mr. LaDuke regain his strength,” says Dr. Theeman. “He worked very hard so he could be as independent as possible and return home.”

Until two diagnostic tests in a row came back negative, Mr. LaDuke spent his time in an isolated room, outfitted with negative air pressure to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination from room to room. Those who interacted with Mr. Laduke did so in full protective equipment, including an N95 mask, goggles, face shield, gown, and gloves.

“I cannot imagine being isolated from loved ones, and even from your [hospital] caregivers that way,” says Denise McLaughlin, RN. Using a tablet in the patient’s room and a computer at the nurses’ station, staff would use Zoom to check in on Mr. LaDuke as often as possible. “His family was also wonderful about checking in with him. Fortunately, his room was on the ground floor so loved ones could visit through the window.”

Ms. McLaughlin says she felt prepared to work with patients recovering from COVID. “Early on, our department leaders armed us with knowledge, infection prevention training, and support. We want to help. This is why we became nurses,” she says.

Of his stay at ECH, Mr. LaDuke says the hospital staff were, “fantastic and made it just like being home.”

To help lift his spirits, Ms. McLaughlin celebrated when testing confirmed Mr. LaDuke was no longer COVID positive and could be moved out of isolation. “I told him that when his test came back negative, I would show up with pom poms. I couldn’t find any pom poms so I brought balloons instead.”

With balloons in hands and masked smiles, a tearful farewell came four weeks after he first arrived. It was warm and sunny day. His care team lined the hallway when he was wheeled outside to await his family’s arrival. LaDuke’s son and daughter-in-law, Mary, picked him up ending his 52-day stay. “On the drive home he says ‘I could really go for a soft ice cream’ and I laughed and knew everything was going to be okay.”

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