Monday marked three months to the day that Billy Szendrey walked himself into Baylor Scott and White Medical Center Grapevine where he was diagnosed with pneumonia, tested for COVID-19 and promptly intubated and hooked to a ventilator.
His battle with the novel virus would prove to be a rollercoaster for his wife Sue, daughter Katy and his son as they desperately searched for a plasma donor, and at one point, prepared for the possibility he’d never return home.
But just one day shy of marking eight-weeks on the ventilator, Billy began to breathe on his own.
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After a stay at an acute care facility, Billy returned to Baylor for inpatient rehabilitation to re-learn how to stand on his own.
“I think a lot of people think this is a life and death disease, like oh, you get it and you’re going to live or you’re going to die. But yes, you can live, but it might not be the same as you were before you got this,” said Katy Szendrey.
After 67 days in a hospital bed, Billy’s muscles had atrophied.
He found himself 40 pounds lighter, struggling to use his voice again and numb in several limbs.
He also had no memory of the last two months when he’d been kept under sedation.
“He has to learn to do everything all over again,” said Sue Szendrey.
For now, doctors expect Billy will remain in rehab for another month spending three hours of each day undergoing both physical and occupational therapy.
“When people are seeing all these numbers of people on a ventilator, this is what their reality is. It’s being lightly sedated, so pretty much in a coma where you don’t remember what’s happening to you. But it’s very hard on your body, because while it is helping you, it’s doing the work for you which means your muscles are being weakened or atrophied,” said Katy.
Even once he returns home, his family expects it will be with a cane and with some modifications like transitioning to a first-floor bedroom.
It’s a sharp contrast to how he left it in March.
The family said it’s been too early for an accurate long-term prognosis. But with Billy’s mental state and sense of humor seemingly unaffected, they’re counting their blessings.
Both they and doctors were prepared for a different ending.
“They call him their miracle. And we all want miracles for families, but not every family has a miracle,” said Sue Szendrey.
That’s why both mother and daughter are frustrated watching people ignore the precautions laid out by scientists and health professionals.
“If you think wearing a mask is taking away your personal freedom, wait until you have to have two people help you walk when you didn’t need any assistance three months ago,” said Katy.
Though the family had been allowed to spend time with Billy since moving to rehab, they said the recent surge in cases across the state has put an end to visitors yet again.
So now, they’re counting down the days until he’s expected to return home and hoping other families don’t endure the nightmare they’ve faced.
“It’s a trial. It’s a journey, and it’s a journey I don’t want anyone to go on,” said Sue.
While supporting Billy through his recovery, Katy’s been selling #TeamBilly t-shirts to raise money for Baylor Scott and White’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.
She hopes to donate $4,500 in gratitude to the medical staff that’s cared for her dad.