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MARX: On the brink of death: Milan man now on the mend from baffling COVID-like illness

MARX: On the brink of death: Milan man now on the mend from baffling COVID-like illness

Affectionately known as "Peaches,'' Steve Long spent 28 days ding-dong-ditching death's door.

Today, his voice is raspy, as if he's gargling gravel. The result of a tube down his throat for nearly a month.

The legs are sturdy. The walker's been tossed in favor of a cane.

His left arm, though, is balky. Nerve damage in the shoulder, they tell him. It's what happens when you spend four weeks belly-down, 12 hours at time, with both arms raised overhead, while in a coma.

What's perfect, though, is Steve Long's 24-karat, gratitude-filled heart. It comes complete with a promise to personally thank everyone who waged a near-death battle with him.

And his signature sense of humor? It's alive. And it's well.

"I can't believe I'm here,'' said the 52-year-old Milan native, a Rock Island High School graduate and 20-plus year employee of John Deere, who with new wife, Yvonne, and son, Brant, live in Oakdale, Minn. "It was hell, but I'll be back and good as new.''

It was then — in a phone conversation — Steve's humor took over. Yvonne, a first-team sweetheart and stand-up funny herself, questioned the "in sickness and in health'' line from the wedding vows the two — friends decades ago at Rock Island High School — shared just seven weeks before her husband almost left us.

"Now she wants a do-over,'' Steve Long said. "Now!''

It was last days of March and the first three days in April, that Steve caught a headache he could not shake. With it came bloodshot eyes, no sense of smell and a low-grade fever hovering in the 99.7-degree range.

Doctors told Long not to go to the hospital despite having symptoms of the coronavirus. On April 3, Steve, Brant and Yvonne Long played basketball together in their driveway.

A day later, their lives changed.

"On April 4, he could not breathe,'' Yvonne said of Steve. "He was struggling. So Brant helped him get ready and we took him to the emergency room.''

Hours later, Steve was sedated into a coma. His lungs had been compromised almost beyond repair, with oxygen levels at a near-death numbers. Placed on ventilator, Steve had a tracheotomy to clean and remove secretions from the airway and safely deliver oxygen to the lungs.

Yvonne was told her husband of less than two months might not live.

"Single organ failure, but not COVID-19,'' Yvonne said of what doctor's determined was wrong with Steve. "Tested three times for the virus. Organized pneumonia. They even brought in an infectious disease expert to trace everywhere Steve had been, even wondering of it was a parasite from the Mississippi River. They were baffled.''
 
Despite the struggles of each day — and there were many — there was a constant, a daily bright spot, the key to recovery, if you ask Steve. It happened each time the nurses held his phone to his ear so he could hear his new bride's voice.
 
There, in her own special way, she would tell him of her day, read to him, share updates of calls and the social-media support he was receiving. She assured him all would be well, despite herself not knowing if he would survive.
 
"When I woke up from the coma, the nurses told me Yvonne's voice calmed me,'' Steve Long said. "I would be restless, agitated at the noise in the room, anything. They told me it was her voice every night that put me in a safe place. She rallied everyone at home and she saved me.''
 
When numbers improved, doctors prepped him for a rehabilitation center. Blood clots changed that. He was transferred to the University of Minnesota for more life-saving measures.
 
"It couldn't be one thing, it had to be another,'' Yvonne said of her husband, who lost 70 pounds in the ordeal. "They did a great job keeping the clots from going to his lungs.''
 
Soon, though, Steve turned the corner. The trach tube was removed and he would begin eating sold foods. On May 6, he went home. 
 
"Let's be honest, there are better diets,'' Long said of his weight loss. "But I was blown away by the love and support, especially from my family. I read the Facebook comments and get inspired at how wonderful everyone was to me.''
 
Today, there is occupational and physical therapy two times week. A visiting nurse also makes thrice-weekly visits. Steve and Yvonne are hoping a vacation is somewhere in the offing, though a timetable for Steve to be 100% does not exist.
 
"Whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes,'' he said. "And I'm personally going thank everyone who gave support. Personally. Peaches will be back.''
 
You can bank that. 
 

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.

" I would be restless, agitated at the noise in the room, anything. They told me it was her voice every night that put me in a safe place."

Steve Long, about nurses holding the phone to his ear during his 30 coma

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