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Summer vacation took an unexpected turn for Dennis Lauchner and his family. The Scottsdale, Arizona, resident and his loved ones set off for their planned monthlong vacation in Coronado and never anticipated they’d be anxiously spending the next two months worrying over Dennis’ hospitalization due to a severe case of COVID-19.
The 67-year-old father of five had never experienced any serious health issues before this. In fact, up until this point, Dennis was riding his bicycle 25 miles a day in 100-degree temperatures. His family says he was in great physical shape, so no one expected him to get so sick.
“Since the pandemic began, we stayed home for the most part, except for outdoor exercise,” says Katee Lauchner, Dennis’ wife. “Right around Dennis’ birthday in early June, many of the restaurants in Arizona started to open back up, so our family visited three restaurants in one week to help him celebrate. We still don’t know exactly how or where Denny was exposed to COVID-19.”
An unfortunate change of events
On their first night in Coronado, Dennis started to experience breathing issues. That’s when he was admitted to Sharp Coronado Hospital. After two weeks of treatment, Katee says his prognosis did not look good.
“I received a call from his doctor saying they would start to prone him – lying face down – but they did not have much hope left,” she says. “I received a call from his nurse a few hours later asking me if I would like to see him. I knew it was bad, as the hospital was going to let us inside to say goodbye.”
Even with this, Katee and her children didn’t lose hope.
“My daughter and I stood outside the glass door in the ICU and told him how much we loved him,” Katee says. “We told him to keep fighting and not to give up.”
The power of positivity and prayer
To help her husband stay strong, Katee organized prayer sessions every night at 7 pm and started a Facebook page called Dennis Strong to update loved ones of his condition and receive their support.
“Since COVID-19 attacks every major organ in your body, I would tell people exactly what to pray for each day,” Katee says. “We prayed for his heart, his kidneys when he had to have dialysis, his blood pressure and for the pneumonia that was attacking his lungs.”
Katee credits the outpouring of support her family received for helping them stay positive.
“At one point, we had nearly a thousand people on the Facebook page reaching out to us from all over the U.S. and Canada,” she says. “Our certified therapy dogs, Coco and Cici, have an Instagram account with over 285,000 followers, so we also had thousands of people sending us love and support through that platform.”
Some special visitors offer strength
As Dennis grew stronger, Katee arranged for Coco and Cici to visit him in his hospital bed to give him some sense of normalcy, since his family was still not allowed inside to visit. She says it was the great care Dennis was receiving that helped him get better, which also inspired his family to give back.
“Our family was overwhelmed with people sending us food and monetary donations, so my daughter Jessie suggested that we donate food to the hospital staff,” says Katee. “Before we knew it, we had close to $2,000 to help feed the caregivers. This gave us a sense of purpose and made us feel like we were doing something to give back.”
After 46 days in the hospital, 30 of them spent on a ventilator, Dennis was finally released. His family – and his dogs – were grateful for the care he received that helped him recover.
Recovery continues back home
Now back home in Arizona, Dennis is still dealing with the lingering effects COVID-19 has had on his organs, including his gallbladder, heart and lungs – even though he previously had no underlying health conditions. He lost 40 pounds of muscle and had to relearn many skills, such as how to walk.
He’s currently on a low-fat diet to help his affected gallbladder, as he was too weak from COVID-19 to undergo surgery to remove it. He has weekly blood tests to measure the effects of the many medications he still must take, and will soon see his cardiologist to find out if he can discontinue taking the drugs he was given for coronavirus-related heart complications. He will also need to see a pulmonologist to monitor his lung function as well as get another CT scan to check for scarring caused by COVID-19.
Despite it all, his family says he’s making slow but steady progress. Even with a long road ahead, Dennis is immensely grateful for the support he has received.
“I don't think I would be here without my family, all the prayers and my dogs,” he says.
For the news media: To talk with the Lauchner family or the caregivers at Sharp Coronado Hospital for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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