North Texas Firefighter Battles Back From COVID-19, Program Helps Him Get Fit for Duty

Stephen Forrest spent more than two months in the hospital with COVID-19

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Captain Stephen Forrest flashed a thumbs-up as he walked to take a test for which he’d waited weeks.

The test was at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation, about four months after Forrest was released from the hospital after a long battle with COVID-19.

Forrest, 36, is a father of two boys and an 18-year veteran of the Argyle Fire Department.

“Firefighting is a great occupation but, to me, it's the people you work with that make your career,” Forrest said.

When Forrest caught COVID-19 on the job in July, then quarantined at home, it was co-workers who came to his rescue.

“They said the tenth day, I called them and said, ‘I need to go to the hospital,’ and they took me up there and I stayed there for a while,” Forrest said.

Friends and family prayed while he spent 78 days in the hospital, 40 of them in a coma.

“I don't remember quarantine before the hospital, I don't remember being in the hospital, it's just black and that's it,” he explained.

Forrest left the hospital 45 pounds lighter, weak but with strong willpower.

“I also wanted to get back as fast as I could just because the state I was in, I hated it. I couldn’t do anything you know, couldn't even pick up my kids, couldn't put socks on for them, it was so frustrating,” he said.

Now, three days a week, Forrest is in therapy at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation in Frisco.

He’s one of the first participants in a program aimed at helping first responders return to duty after a battle with COVID-19.

In the program, and under the guidance of physical therapists, Forrest puts his body and brain to the test using some of the same technology that professional athletes use to improve performance.

“He was significantly impaired from his cognitive state which, again, was a function of the entire journey he went on,” said JJ Mosolf, executive vice president of Sports Academy at The Star.

On a blustery February morning, Forrest took physical and cognitive tests that mimic the test he’ll have to pass through Argyle Fire Department to return to duty.

In the physical portion, he was required to pull multiple hoses, sleds and a dummy provided by the first department – all in under four minutes.

He finished in three minutes, 28 seconds.

Then it was onto the cognitive portion where he was given instructions on where to tap on a screen then distracted through headphones and tapping on his shoulder by physical therapist Jessica Wulke.

“That’s kind of the goal is to distract him, right, because of work, because he arrives onto a crash scene, he has to focus and really put the distractions out,” Wulke explained.

The results were measured in real-time.

After three tests, each with increasing difficulty, he missed just one answer.

In 12 weeks, trainers say he's achieved what doctors said could take a year.

“I'm pretty proud,” Forrest said.

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