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Touched by COVID, surviving and thriving

40 min read

Editor’s Note: The daily reports from Santa Fe of the number of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths can be somewhat overwhelming and depressing, so we found five people who were diagnosed as positive with the COVID-19 virus and would share their stories of survival with our readers. These are those stories.

40 days in isolation

In the Bible, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert, Noah spent 40 days on his ark, and the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before settling in what is modern day Israel — and just north of Hobbs, Cowboy Junction Church Pastor Ty Bean has been dealing with COVID-19 for 40 days.

After seven days in the hospital and a total of about 40 days in isolation, Bean and his family take the novel coronavirus seriously.

“I think that as Lea County people we need to not fear this virus, but we don’t need to mock it, either,” the leader of Cowboy Junction said last week.

Bean, known to his congregation as “Pastor Ty,” joined a group of 16 fellow church leaders from around the nation in October on a one-week fishing trip to the Bighorn River in Montana.

By Thanksgiving, 47-year-old Bean, his family and the entire congregation had much for which to be thankful. They also had unpleasant memories.

“On the last day (of the fishing trip), two of the guys spoke up and said they couldn’t taste their food and they couldn’t smell anything,” Bean said. “We all groaned because that was just one of the main signs of the corona-virus. This was Oct. 23.”

That was just the beginning.

“We’re all texting for the next couple of days. One by one, more and more of the guys tested positive for COVID-19. At the same time, I lose my sense of taste and smell on Saturday, basically Oct. 24,” Bean explained.

“What ended up happening was, by a complete accident, 50 people ended up being infected with COVID because of this trip,” Bean said. “It wasn’t just the 16 guys. It was the guys and the trip after us, and family members. It was a super-spreader.”

The pastor received a rapid test in Denver City on Oct. 26 and learned immediately he had COVID-19. He was sent home with instructions to isolate himself.

“While everybody else that was on this trip was getting better, I was getting worse,” he said “My fever spiked up really bad and after several days of not being able to breathe, Heather (Bean’s wife) took me back to the emergency room in Denver City on Nov. 2.”

After X-rays, an examination and a second attempt to recover at home, Bean returned to the emergency room two days later in even worse shape.

“They took a look at my lungs again and agreed I needed to be admitted to the hospital. In the hospital, my temperature spiked up to 105.7. I really battled fever and pneumonia. My lungs sounded horrible,” Bean remembered.

The pastor praised the professionalism of the Yoakum County Hospital’s Dr. Christopher Cotton and nurse who cared for him. They treated him with the FDA-approved drug remdesivir.

“They put me on remdesivir and they gave me two plasma transfusions. It wasn’t immediate, but it was pretty quick,” Bean said. “They wanted me there for 10 days, but there was such an improvement I was able to go home in seven days.”

Respiratory therapy included use of a spirometer to help Bean expand his lung capacity. He said it also helped the medicine do its job.

A spirometer is a diagnostic device that measures the amount of air a patient is able to breathe in and out and the time it takes to exhale completely after a deep breath.

After leaving the hospital, he remained in isolation at home until Monday, which Bean said would be 40 days since he’d kissed his wife.

The rest of Bean’s family tested negative for the coronavirus, a condition they worked carefully to maintain.

“There’s Heather and our two boys, Brady (age 17) and Hudson (age 14),” Bean said by way of describing the household. “They have tested and been negative. It just shows we’re able to live in the same house and I quarantine in one part of the house. In all of this, masks have kept us safe. I mask up and the boys mask up. It’s just quite a testimony what masks can do.”

Meanwhile, things changed at the church where Heather and other members of the congregation pitched in to fill the void left by Bean’s illness.

“It’s really difficult to pastor and lead a church while having COVID, but the Cowboy Junction staff rose to unbelievable leadership levels,” Bean said. “I’m so blessed to have them co-pastor with me at the church.”

Among those stepping up was his wife Heather.

“Heather is the most amazing wife/nurse you could ask for. … She has been wonderful helping me, and helping others,” Bean said. “Even as Heather is taking care of me, she has had to help other people who tested positive, make sure they get food, make sure they’re taken care of, make sure they have everything they need. At the same time, when we lose somebody who had COVID, she has to be there for the family.”

Spiritually, the event drew an outpouring from other churches, with prayer chains and people praying for him and his family, something Bean called “absolutely amazing.”

“It was refreshing for me to have so many people from other churches praying for me. I think the biggest thing is to see God’s hand move in the healing of my life by so many people praying for me,” Bean said. “I will be forever grateful for everyone that joined in prayer for my healing.”

In recent weeks, the entire atmosphere of the Cowboy Junction Church has changed dramatically, Bean said.

“When this whole thing started … people would say, ‘I don’t know anybody that had COVID,’” Bean said. “But things are shifting. There are so many people we know who’ve tested positive for COVID.”

Past the hospital stay and at the end of his isolation period, Bean feels (almost) ready to tackle the job ahead.

“Now, I feel great. I just have zero energy. I’ve lost a lot of weight, a lot of muscle, and I get tired really quick,” he said. “It is so crazy how the virus hits people in different ways.”

But he’s leading the church in the war against this virus.

“We’re encouraging our church, we’re telling everyone, ‘Wearing your mask is a very sensible, smart protection against something that is an invisible enemy,’” Bean said. “We’re really encouraging everyone to do what you have to do but wear a mask.”

Both in the family and in the church, the changes are palpable.

“It’s so personal, now, because it hit me and it has affected people that we love. We take it very serious in our home,” Bean said.

The congregation of the church takes COVID-19 seriously, too.

“At Cowboy Junction Church, we are going to do our part in seeing the COVID line drop in Lea County. We’ve decided to go online campus. This is something we prayed about,” Bean said. “We believe we can do a quality church service, but now instead of focusing on Sunday, we decided we can help people. We started COVID baskets. We’ve decided to focus on helping people in the current need. We’re having Sunday services, just online, not in person.”

Normal, even a new normal, may be down the road a piece, but it will come.

“It’s one of those things we’re all praying for, but we have to do our part,” Bean concluded.


Not a cautionary tale

Keith Clayton doesn’t want people to think his family’s experience with the novel coronavirus means the pandemic isn’t serious.

Diagnosed in late August, Keith still isn’t sure where he contracted COVID-19. All he knows for sure is his wife, Yolanda, also survived the coronavirus. And both came through the illness relatively unscathed.

It all started the last week in August. A person at Keith’s former place of work was diagnosed with strep throat. Within a few days, Keith developed a sore throat also and, naturally, he said, he believed he had contracted the streptococcus bacteria from his coworker.

Not thinking COVID at the time, Keith went to Nor-Lea Hospital, looking for antibiotics. After testing him for strep and for the flu, both of which came back negative, his doctor decided to administer the coronavirus test. Just in case.

“The weekend hit and I still had the sore throat,” Keith said. “The following week, they called me and said I had COVID.

“I was actually very surprised; I wasn’t scared of it, because I did my own research. I learned people my age have a high percentage of recovery.”

The first part of that week following his test, Keith said he was tired and spent most of that time in bed. By Wednesday, he said, when he woke up, he “felt great.”

Yolanda also contracted the virus, most likely from Keith, but nobody knows for sure. She, too, experienced mild symptoms, with the addition of losing her sense of smell. The couple’s two children tested negative for COVID-19.

Keith realizes his experience with the disease could promote a sense of security among some people who’ve bought into the national downplaying of the pandemic. He knows he and Yolanda probably got off lucky.

“It’s a very real disease,” Keith said. “To me, it felt a lot like the flu. I understand my experience with COVID is different than anybody else. I had a friend get COVID and he got very sick. It affects everyone so differently.”

Keith and Yolanda had been following recommendations, wearing masks and social distancing, when they went out even before they got the disease. And Keith’s experiences at work before they opened the coffee shop placed him in an office alone, where he was naturally distanced from coworkers.

“Yolanda and I had worn our masks, we’d done all the things you’re supposed to do,” he said. “That’s why we were surprised about it.

“Mine is not a cautionary tale – if people doubt the severity of COVID, my story could make them feel more like that. That’s the weird thing about it, it affects everyone so differently.”

Doctors make the worst patients

Doctors are on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic and at risk for contracting the virus. For Dr. Gilbert Sayegh he faced every symptom of the deadly disease.

“(Doctors) are at war right now, honestly,” Sayegh said. “Really people are fighting it. We are trying our best to keep people alive, that’s really what it comes down to.”

After a severe case of COVID Sayegh thanks God, family, and medicinal knowledge for supporting him through his experience with COVID-19.

“I thank God, first and foremost,” Sayegh said. “Of course my family, all my colleagues everyone helped out and went into action.”

Sayegh is an OB/GYN in Seminole, and has been a doctor for nearly 20 years and worked in Seminole since 2015. There was never a doubt in his mind COVID-19 was real and that people were dying but he is young and safe.

“I had this misconception. I am young, I am healthy, even if I get it I’m going to be just fine,” Sayegh said. “That’s not true. I’m young, I’m healthy and it wasn’t fine.”

Once he tested positive he faced every symptom at one point or another, from a high fever then chills, lack of sleeping, and continuous cough. Sayegh admitted for a few days he should have been admitted to the hospital due to a low oxygen level.

But doctors make the worst patients and he treated himself.

“I was stubborn and didn’t go,” Sayegh said. “I did go as an outpatient once just to get some fluids. … I was worried about a pulmonary embolism at that point because my shortness of breath was getting worse.”

Sayegh pushed through, telling himself he would beat it and didn’t want to accept his body was breaking down.

“What is sucky about this virus is it kept my body at a run,” Sayegh said. “I would get over one symptom and would feel good for a couple of hours. Then something completely new pops up. It had my body so confused.”

Asking friends in the medical field, Sayegh searched for answers for his case of COVID. Those friends helped him stay at home along with his knowledge as a physician, he recommends anyone with the need, to go to the hospital.

“At one point where I basically exhausted a lot of my knowledge on it and how to treat it, and still nothing was working, I would say I was nervous there for a little bit,” Sayegh said. “It wasn’t fun, to be honest with you. I reached to a couple of my friends that are in pulmonary critical care in Houston.”

Everything Sayegh tried on his own wasn’t enough. It was learned he needed time and rest to recover from the virus and that is something he didn’t give to himself.

“After I got out of my isolation I went right back to full work,” Sayegh explained. “That set me back another week and a half.”

Sayegh went back to work feeling better but nowhere near 100% recovered. During the first weekend, he was on call.

“That weekend just kicked my booty,” Sayeigh said. “On that Sunday at the end of the call, I had to call one of my colleagues and say look you have to take over because I don’t think I can make another minute.”

Following his exhaustive weekend, Sayeigh had to close the practice for another week and recover.

Sayegh urged everyone to take precautions. He explained of a family who contracted COVID. The father died due to the virus. The mother was sent home and close to death from COVID. Their daughter who was 29-years-old also died while pregnant. And the son is having severe COVID symptoms.

“I use this as an example to my patients if they don’t believe it,” Sayeigh said. “It’s a real thing, it’s not a BS virus, it’s something that can kill you and has killed a lot of our patients. It’s something to take seriously. It is not going to go away until we get that vaccine.”

Sayegh continues to hope for the future and the vaccine that will help build immunity to COVID-19.


COVID: A really bad birthday gift

Hobbs resident Chance Collins will never forget turning 21 on Nov.2, the day he found out he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

His birthday was on a Monday, but he had started feeling unwell late the week before.

“It was probably Thursday or Friday, I started feeling real dizzy all the time, light headed, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on,” Collins said. “I got to a doctor who thought it might be my blood pressure. They did some tests and told me to come back on Monday.”

Over the weekend, the dizziness turned into general malaise coupled with olfactory discomfort.

“I started having this really bad smell. It was everywhere. I smelled this really bad smell all the time,” Collins said.

On his birthday Monday, medical professionals drew blood to test for problems with his heart.

Only after leaving the doctor’s office did he get a call from a coworker advising him to get a COVID test.

“So, I went over to (Lea Regional Medical Group) Urgent Care and I got tested. They called me later that evening and it came back positive,” Collins said. “They told me I had to isolate for at least 10 days, up to two weeks.”

Collins works in an essential business (by state health department definition) where one, and only one, of his coworkers tested positive, but Collins said he still doesn’t know where he acquired the infection.

After learning of his positive test, Collins went to his bedroom and stayed there for two weeks — his first two weeks at age 21.

“I had to spend two weeks alone, just me in my room, not being able to talk to anybody. It was really unfortunate,” Collins said.

Collins lives in a large family environment with his girlfriend, a younger brother, two younger sisters, his mother and his stepfather. All of them tested negative for COVID.

“The next day, I noticed I couldn’t smell anything. I tried to smell a candle and there was nothing,” Collins said. “They would bring me food and I couldn’t taste anything at all. I thought that was weird but I had heard people say COVID made you lose smell. I didn’t know it was the taste, too.”

Because he had been in the company of friends the night before testing positive, he called them to advise they get tested, as well.

“I’m the only person in my whole social life group that tested positive,” Collins said, acknowledging masks were in use at all times. “We were doing social distancing, too, making sure not to make close contact. We’re still not sure where I got it from.”

Breathing difficulties followed, especially after any physical activity such as cleaning up his room. Collins said the breathing activities prescribed for him by the doctors work well, but he still has some difficulty breathing after strenuous activity.

And his senses of taste and smell have yet to return.

Collins urges use of masks as a prevention measure, as well as keeping any close contact time to a minimum, with or without masks.

Returning to work two weeks after his positive test, Collins relates to friends the COVID virus was probably the worst birthday present he ever received.


Hope at the end of COVID-19 tunnel

For Robert Guthrie, COVID-19 was not the worst experience he ever faced but it was still rough. After surviving COVID-19, Guthrie is thankful that his mother, wife, and loved ones were not infected while he was contagious.

Guthrie, operation manager of Option Inc. in Hobbs, gives back to the community every day and helps support domestic violence victims at Option Inc.

When he got COVID-19, caring for people was his number one concern, and what he was most thankful for when he recovered.

“I didn’t want to hurt anyone around me,” Guthrie said. He further explained his mother, Dinora Guthrie, who founded Option Inc., and his wife did not contract the disease. “I’m thankful for the end result. I made it through and I didn’t have to go to the hospital. So, I guess I am thankful I got it and not someone else.”

It was a Friday when Guthrie started to feel sick. However, Guthrie wasn’t running a fever and showed few symptoms of COVID-19. With shortness of breath, Guthrie went to Hobbs High School where Nor-Lea Clinic was conducting tests.

That Monday he discovered he was COVID-19 positive. He began to isolate and felt his symptoms were not too bad until day six. After less than a week, Guthrie thought he might need to go to a hospital because he couldn’t breathe, but he toughed through it and by day eight felt stronger.

“You don’t hit the ground like you used to,” Guthrie said. “Then you get stronger every day.”

Two weeks in bed and what he described as “your little hell” he feels lucky because he knows it could have been a lot worse. With fatigue, shortness of breath, and loss of smell, Guthrie described his case of COVID-19 and mild.

But, everything smelt better on the other side of COVID-19.

“You know it’s kinda funny afterward I could smell stuff,” Guthrie said. “I think I’m getting back to normal again. For a week there afterward I could smell again, that was amazing.”

Having COVID-19 made the pandemic personal. He knew, being in his 60’s, COVID-19 was a risk but he would not live in fear.

“It was something in the back of your brain, people are dying from this,” Guthrie said. “People are dying from this, you got to treat it seriously. When you’re going through it, it becomes real.”

Living in Hobbs for four decades Guthrie had a lot of support.

“I was thankful for the support that we got,” Guthrie said. “I had a lot of people call me and just pray for me. The church I go to, people I know said just let me pray for you, just people we know, family friends.”

Getting COVID-19 made Guthrie become more cautious of the virus and the need for people to follow COVID-19 safety protocols. Guthrie is back at work and taking every precaution at work to lessen the spread of COVID-19.

“We don’t want anybody to die from this,” Guthrie said. “So, we just have to be careful until we get that inoculation. For me, the light is at the end of the tunnel. I know that this will be over and we will get back to our lives. There is great hope for a conclusion of this.”

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