Randy Burke made a promise on his wedding day 40 years ago.
It was a promise put to the test in early July after the 64-year-old Davenport native was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and COVID-19. Not long after being taken to Genesis Medical Center East, Davenport, emergency room, Randy was admitted to the hospital.
Within days he was in the ICU and on a ventilator. Doctors and nurses didn't think Randy had much of a chance to survive.
The prognosis left Kathy Burke grasping for hope. Randy and Kathy were lifelong partners. They met at Davenport Assumption High School. They raised the A-Team, daughters Allyson, Amber and Abbey. And they saw the arrival of grandchildren.
And they shared a promise.
"He told me he would never leave me," Kathy Burke said. "And when I finally got to see him, after they got him to the hospital and I was able to get there, I reminded him of that promise.
"I told him, 'You told me you would never leave me. You promised.' But for a while it looked like there was no way he could keep that promise."
Kathy said her husband's journey through COVID-19 started with a few days where he "felt really, really tired." The fatigue subsided, but within days his temperature spiked.
"He had gone to get a COVID test, but we hadn't heard back. So his temperature is high, and then he told me he had a headache like someone was stabbing knives in his head. That was it for me. I had just had a shoulder replaced and I couldn't drive. I called for the ambulance."
Within days, Randy was isolated from the people who loved him most. Once placed on the ventilator, he was immobilized and heavily sedated. Kathy waited five weeks to see her high school sweetheart.
"They finally let me in — they got me all suited up and followed all the protocols and I was able to go and talk to him. All the people at Genesis East were so kind. So professional," Kathy said. "He couldn't hear me. He couldn't see me. But I talked to him and told him about his A-Team and all the people rooting for him."
Kathy said the family had no idea how Randy caught the virus.
"Let's just be honest — Randy didn't always wear a mask when he went out," Kathy said. "He rarely wore one. We learned the hard way. This virus is real. And we have no idea how it will affect each of us.
"I was tested. I tested positive for COVID-19 and I never once showed a symptom. And it almost killed my husband."
Randy faces uncertainty. Seven weeks into being on a ventilator he had to have his gallbladder removed. After 13 weeks immobilized, his muscles atrophied and he cannot walk. He struggled, at first, to even speak. He is battling depression.
"The nurses told me as he was reviving, Randy asked why his family had left him," Kathy said. "And he asked how his younger daughter died.
"There have been heart-breaking moments. But Randy kept his promise."
After a 14-week stay in the hospital — 99 days in the ICU — Randy was released from care at Genesis East on Oct. 9. He faces a stay at ManorCare Health Services to build his strength and then rehabilitation at Genesis West.
A member of Randy's A-Team offered some reasons for Randy's survival. And a few words of warning.
"When my dad got sick, it was very shortly after my mom had shoulder replacement surgery. So the day she called 911 and they came and got my dad, I was the one who followed the ambulance to the hospital and was with him in the ER before he was admitted to ICU," Allyson said. "I will never ever forget the last thing he said to me as they wheeled him away. He grabbed my hand and said: 'You told me this was real. You told me, and I didn’t believe you.’
"And I left the hospital that day knowing those could be his last words to me. But I never let that thought take over. Having COVID be the the thing that took him down, my dad would have been so angry. I knew deep down he would never let this be the end. I knew he would never give up."
Allyson made a promise to never give up. The idea rallied the rest of Randy's family. Friends came out of the woodwork to help.
"I just have to say, though, that my dad is amazing. He is one of the best men you will ever meet, one of the most caring and generous people around. When he walks in a room, the party just got there. People recognize my parents just by hearing their laughs," Allyson said. "The amount of people who were in his corner through this is a testament to what a good person he is. We received countless messages from people who have known my dad since first grade, letting us know they are fighting with us and him.
"Nobody gave up. Nobody."
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