A beloved father and grandfather bests COVID
At 83, Allen Powell had seen a lot.
He spent more than 27 years as a bus driver, with a parallel career as a gospel singer for the Melody Masters quartet. His wife of 62 years, Reba, sang alongside him. The couple also owned a floral shop for 30 years.
Together, the couple produced a CD and seven albums – along with two daughters of which they are very proud.
When Allen and Reba began experiencing neurological symptoms, they moved to a senior living community. Reba, the family learned, had dementia, while Allen experienced loss of coordination due to damage to his brain’s muscle control center. Though confined mostly to a wheelchair, Allen cared for Reba with the help of facility staff.
When COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., the couple complied with the precautions and were happy if they had to stay quarantined, at least they could do it together.
The couple rejoiced when a vaccine was made available. Allen and Reba rolled up their sleeves to receive the first of two shots.
However, between the first and second doses, Allen tested positive for the virus. As his breathing became labored, the facility called an ambulance, which rushed him to the hospital.
Despite significant breathing challenges, Allen refused to be intubated, fearing he’d never survive. Instead, doctors placed him on high-flow oxygen and a pressurized breathing mask.
For more than a month, Allen battled pneumonia, weakness and fluctuating oxygen levels that made it difficult to discontinue respiratory support.
While he no longer needed life-saving, daily medical intervention, doctors cautioned Pamela and Twila not to be too optimistic. Still, his daughters weren’t ready to give up. They chose Regency Hospital Toledo, telling them do all they could to bring the grandfather of four and great-grandfather of six back to his family.
A physician-led team, including therapists, nurses, dietitians and pharmacists created a plan for success.
Respiratory therapists began testing whether Allen could tolerate less oxygen support and building lung strength through chest exercises.
Within a week and a half, Allen made remarkable progress and one of the physicians apologized to Pamela and Twila for thinking they should give up.
Increased oxygen helped clear Allen’s mind. He was able to tell the team he wanted to get well enough to return to care for Reba.
“I miss her terribly,” he said. “She’s an elegant person.”
Over the weeks, Allen’s oxygen needs reduced until he could discontinue support.
Speech, occupational and physical therapists stepped in with mobility and dexterity exercises that would get Allen closer to his goal of going home to Reba.
Physical and occupational therapists used grasping, gripping and resistance tasks to build skills needed to move his wheelchair, button shirts, brush teeth and comb hair.
They also deployed a mobility program to rebuild Allen’s core. They assisted as Allen sat in bed, at its edge and transitioned to a chair. Growing stronger, he stood with help, built lower-limb stamina on a modified exercise bicycle and eventually walked short distances.
Speech therapists led swallow strategies and diet training as well as tongue and jaw exercises. Over time, Jim was able to drink all liquids and eat a slightly modified diet of small-cut foods.
At the start of Allen’s stay, visitation had been restricted to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, with a few weeks, restrictions eased enough to allow Pamela and Twila to spend time with their dad. It was a key turning point that provided a much-needed emotional boost.
After a month with Regency Hospital -- and nearly three full months in various hospitals – Allen met his final goal of getting home to Reba.
“We had a very good experience at Regency,” Allen said. “It is a smaller hospital and the people here made me happy. They were so friendly.”
Allen was able to keep his promise, caring for Reba until she passed away. He feels fortunate that he could spend time with her, and he has no lingering effects from his battle with COVID.