MARIETTA — One-hundred days of intense treatment and surgeries, multiple hospitals, a month in a coma and more than just one brush with death.
After all that, Ken Becker emerged from Kennestone Hospital in Marietta on Wednesday, having overcome COVID-19, sepsis and staph, among other trials.
As hospital staff pushed him in a wheelchair down the long hallway toward the exit of the hospital, doctors, nurses, surgeons and others lined the corridor to clap and cheer. As he approached the sliding doors, Becker insisted he be able to stand up and walk out. Hospital staff helped him to his feet, and he quickly greeted his wife, daughters and other family and friends with tearful embraces and pecks on the cheek.
Four of Becker’s six daughters were present, and seven of nine grandchildren.
“My main feeling is gratitude — for all the medical staff and family and God — and then I feel just relieved,” Becker’s wife Angela Becker said, choking up. “I always said from day one, ‘He’ll come home.’”
Angela Becker said there were many times where it looked like her husband wouldn’t make it. She said hospice and social workers had even contacted her to speak about dealing with her partner’s death.
“I told them not to call me ever again. I did,” she said. “I said, ‘He’ll walk out the front door of the hospital.’ And he did.”
Ken Becker initially went to the hospital for staph, and had surgeries to address the blood infection that had spread to his spine, vital organs and even out to his hands, his family said. After initial treatment and as he was preparing to leave WellStar North Fulton Hospital, they said, he tested positive for COVID-19. He’d contracted it during his stay.
After three days there in the intensive care unit, Ken Becker was transferred to Kennestone “as a hail Mary,” his wife said.
At Kennestone, Ken Becker spent the remainder of his 100 days hospitalized in intensive care on the coronavirus floor. He tested positive for the COVID-19 virus for 66 days, and lost around 80 pounds throughout the ordeal, according to his family.
For around 30 days of his hospitalizations, Ken Becker was in a comatose state. For the first 50 days, he had barely any opportunity to speak with his family. And for nearly all of the time he was hospitalized, much of which he was also on a ventilator, he couldn’t see them in person because of the extremely contagious nature of the virus.
But his condition changed when his family set up an iPad station on his bed, according to caregivers. Dr. Nason Rouhizad, who managed Ken Becker’s care at Kennestone, said the iPad station setup was a definite turning point.
Rouhizad said the family set up a stand structure, attached a microphone and headphones to the iPad and kept video rolling nearly 24/7 to stay in close contact with Ken Becker throughout the around 50 days leading up to his discharge. His family says his 10-month-old granddaughter, Morgan Weber, only knows him through the iPad.
“I saw him without it ... and he was unresponsive, he wasn’t really engaging. The second he got that tablet and was able to FaceTime, he was more alert, he was more engaging — his will was back,” Rouhizad said. “They would sleep with it on sometimes.”
He said the family also donated several “Together Tablet kits” to Kennestone and other hospitals to help connect other families dealing with COVID-19 hospital admissions. They’ve set up a GoFundMe to support the venture .
Rouhizad said Ken Becker had done “all the work” in his own recovery, working hard to follow medical advice and build himself back up during his final weeks of recovery from surgeries and COVID-19.
It was just weeks ago, Ken Becker’s family noted, that he was able to have his final surgery, one to clear heart valves infected by staph, because he was finally clear of COVID-19.
But for Ken Becker, a South Carolina resident, the credit goes to Rouhizad and the other Kennestone staff involved in his care.
“I was on my belly for months, and he (Rouhizad) saved my life at least two times,” he said with a quiet, hoarse voice.
Ken Becker said the negative-pressure room he and other COVID-19 patients have had to stay in at Kennestone was pitch black and loud, with fans running constantly.
“It wasn’t any fun,” he said, adding that the hardest part had been the isolation away from his family. The tablet setup, he said, helped him recover, and the welcoming parties at the hospital were a gratifying sight. “I went through a lot.”
Angela Becker called her husband the “glue” of the family, adding, “I’m the suck-it-up Mom. He’s the, ‘Come here I’ll hug you.’”
That sentiment was reflected in the final anecdote Angela Becker offered as she prepared to drive away in a brand new car: her husband had purchased it for her online as a birthday surprise during his final weeks in the hospital.
Ken Becker smiled as she spoke about the gift.
He acknowledged as he prepared to head home that he still has a long way to go — he’ll need to aggressively continue physical therapy to get back to normal. But, for now, Becker said, he only wants one thing: “Just to get home.”