Donnie Bruce is 69, a diabetic, and has prostate cancer. Within a 2-week period in March, Bruce had a heart attack, stent-placement surgery, and was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“It’s nothing less than a miracle that I am still here,” Bruce, a retired data engineer, said. “My doctors and nurses saved my life.”
While on a ski trip in Sun Valley, Idaho, Bruce started having chest pains. When it progressed, his wife Zeffie didn’t hesitate and had him driven to the local hospital. Bruce had had a heart attack and was life-flighted to a Twin Falls hospital to have a coronary angioplasty with stent placement.
Thankful for his recovery, the couple returned home to Hollister, California. But this was just the beginning of what Bruce called “a nightmare.” Days later, he suffered a severe blood sugar drop and passed out. Paramedics arrived and discovered he had a fever.
Bruce was taken to the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center on March 12, where he tested positive for COVID-19. This was when the infection had begun rapidly spreading throughout the country, and Bruce knew very little about it.
“I had no idea what the disease could do to me,” Bruce said. “It’s an attack on the body like nothing else.”
Strengthening His Spirit
From the emergency department Bruce was immediately put into isolation and given nonstop care from his team of doctors and nurses.
Like many COVID-19 patients, Bruce got worse before he got better. Day 6 into his illness he had a high fever, shortness of breath, was weak, and emotionally depressed; in large part because he couldn’t see his wife.
His doctor, Christina Umphrey, MD, recognized his weakened spirit. There were moments she thought he wasn’t going to pull through. “I knew he needed to get his fight back,” she said. “Every day I tried to lift his spirit and let him know he wasn’t alone.”
By finding his inner strength and through the collective knowledge and innovative work of Bruce’s medical team, he recovered.
Although his 2-week stay was unbelievably trying, Bruce said he was never scared. His faith in God and the unwavering trust in his caregivers allowed him to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I am so grateful for them,” Bruce said. “The bravery to come to work every day knowing what this disease could do is amazing.”
Connecting Family in Times of Isolation
Dr. Umphrey called Zeffie every day, sometimes multiple times, to give an update on her husband’s treatment and wellbeing. The nurses facilitated calls between Zeffie and Bruce, and shared words of encouragement.
“I want to say thank you very much,” Zeffie said to the Kaiser Permanente team. “You are god-sends, and I know you did the best you absolutely could.”
For the couple who have been married 38 years and share 4 children, 10 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren, life has forever changed. The calls with their kids are longer and they enjoy each sunny day a bit more.
Bruce said he looks forward to being able to see his friends again and to skiing and taking long walks. But for now, he is simply enjoying every minute.
“I don’t take for granted what I once did,” Bruce said. “I am more aware of how precious life is.”