Carl’s story

Carol standing in the hospital hallway using a walker for support

Victory parade for a COVID-19 survivor

Over eight days in March, Carl Rinker’s cough, fever, pain and breathing difficulty worsened. His wife, Laura, grew increasingly concerned and brought him to the emergency department at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. The 63-year-old retired power plant operator was admitted immediately to the intensive care unit and placed on a ventilator. Testing revealed Carl was positive COVID-19.

His condition deteriorated. Carl developed multiple heart issues and kidney failure, which required dialysis. At one point, doctors spoke to Laura about making “end of life” decisions.

But Carl proved to be one of the lucky ones. He began to rally and on day 27 of his battle, his breathing tube was removed and he was able to begin basic speech and physical therapies. He was stable, but not yet well enough to return home.

“I was amazed how weak I was,” Carl said. “I could hardly sit up and could not stand.”

On May 1, Carl transferred to Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital. There, a physician-led team of nurses and therapists created an individualized rehabilitation program to help him recover.

Because in-person visitation was restricted, his family, including daughter Georgia, made daily trips to hospital to “visit” with him through the window of his room.

“I knew I was going to have to get stronger to go home,” Carl said. “They (the rehab team) were also my substitute family during the COVID crisis.”

In physical therapy, Carl completed daily exercise training to build muscle strength, balance and endurance. He began by standing, then taking steps between parallel bars and practicing weight shifting routines. Over time, he graduated to walking with a rolling walker and soon going up and down stairs.

With the guidance of his occupational therapists, Carl learned the skills and strategies to perform daily living activities, including bathing, dressing and grooming.

“I needed the strength in my legs from my physical therapy sessions, in order to stand at the sink and complete my self-care,” Carl said.

Speech therapy focused on strengthening swallowing abilities.

“The doctors and nursing teams helped me reach my goals and taught my family how to assist me at home,” Carl said.

On May 21, Carl walked out of Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital with the aid of a walker, much to the excitement of his wife and daughter. A few days later, his friends threw a “welcome home” parade. More than 100 vehicles, including antique cars; police, fire and EMS vehicles and even a bus, drove past Carl’s house to celebrate his victory over the virus.

Carl said he continues to improve every day and plans to attend outpatient therapy.