The novel coronavirus was just starting to take hold in the United States in mid-March, and was not yet widespread in the New England area. Since little was known about the virus at this time, most of the public stayed cautiously optimistic, including Frank Basler.
Frank is a 57 year old husband and father of two. Residing in Plymouth, MA, he eats well, exercises daily, and in general was in very good health. On March 14th, Frank traveled with a group of friends and family, including his 28 year old son, Andrew, to Vermont for a ski weekend.
After an enjoyable and carefree weekend, the group dispersed and headed their separate ways back home. Shortly after, a friend notified the rest of the group that after experiencing a mild fever, he decided to get tested for COVID-19. The test came back positive.
Knowing of his exposure, Frank quickly opted to be tested himself. On March 18th, his test came back positive.
Quarantine to hospital
Self-quarantined to his home, Frank began to experience mild symptoms. And seemingly out of nowhere, the symptoms progressed rapidly.
“I was dealing with a cough, mild fever, and extreme fatigue to the point of almost passing out on the afternoon of March 23rd. That’s when my son in law, Elliot, called an ambulance.”
Thankfully, the team at Tufts Medical Center was able to admit him immediately.
“The next thing I knew it was April, and I was coming out of some pretty serious stuff.”
Serious was putting it lightly. Soon after Frank was admitted, his lungs were unable to oxygenate enough due to COVID-19 infection and he needed the support of a ventilator to breathe for him in order to survive. Over the next several days in the intensive care unit, his kidneys and liver were not functioning properly. His white blood cell count alarmingly skyrocketed. He even experienced a cytokine storm – an overreaction of the body’s immune system which is often fatal.
Though Frank wasn’t aware of what was taking place, his family anxiously awaited updates from his care team each day.
Support from care team—at Tufts MC and at home
“It was very tough, not being able to visit him in person,” says Frank’s wife, Robin. “The doctors Zoomed with us daily to provide updates, and the nurses were great about communicating with us throughout each day about his status and what we could expect for next steps.”
With the help of Alison Jablonsky, hospital chaplain, Frank’s family was able to put together a large poster of well wishes to keep by his bedside.
“Frank and his family are so wonderful,” Alison says. “His poster was actually the first one that we made, and because of the impact the poster had on his family -- but also on our staff -- is a major reason why we kept making them. It meant so much to them and also to us to be able to read Frank’s family’s messages and to be able to get to know him better through their words.”
“The nurses would read them to me every day,” says Frank. “MJ (O’Doherty), Bianca (Dintino), Dana (Foley), Sean (Arias), Karen (Dodd), and Ellen (LeBlanc), just to name a few – they were all truly amazing.
Frank’s condition began to improve, and he was moved out of the ICU on April 15th. On April 23rd, exactly one month after being admitted to Tufts MC, members of the COVID unit care team lined the hall and applauded him as he was discharged.
“I was one of many members of the healthcare team who saw Frank when he was in the ICU,” said Dr. Geneve Allison, infectious disease specialist at Tufts MC. “I was struck by the dedication and teamwork of the entire ICU team, who were carefully turning Frank onto his stomach routinely so that the lower parts of his lungs could be recruited to help him breathe. It was amazing effort and done with such grace and care. I finished my rotation on call while Frank was still in the ICU, and I was delighted to get to speak to him after he was discharged from hospital, in our COVID telehealth post-discharge clinic. I was amazed at how well he is doing, in body, mind, and spirit.”
After spending three days at an outpatient rehab center, Frank was over the moon to finally return back home to continue to rest and heal. Aside from some residual taste and smell issues, he feels clear as a bell. He is looking forward to spending time with his family, and welcoming his first grandchild in the coming weeks.
“It was touch and go for a while,” Frank reflects on his experience. “The prognosis did not look good for me. But the support my family and I received from Tufts Medical Center was amazing. I am forever grateful.”
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