Steve Rogers has been in the hospital for 59 days, as of June 3. He’s missed his own 50th birthday and his daughter’s eighth birthday, and he has endured unimaginable pain because of the coronavirus.
And while his wife, Kristin Rogers, said “he’s improving daily,” a hole in his right lung still plagues his recovery from a nightmare brought on by the disease that has infected more than 60,000 Wyomingites since the beginning of 2020.
While active COVID cases remain low in the county, Kristin implored everyone to continue to take the virus seriously, as it can be a life altering disease “that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
“To watch your husband struggle to breathe is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to see,” she said. “To watch my children see their dad the way he was, watch my children just cry and say, ‘Daddy looks so different.’ … I’ve had conversations that no wife should have with any doctors, especially when (Steve’s) so young.”
On March 27, Steve woke up in Buffalo feeling under the weather, with coughing and some shortness of breath. He thought little of it at the time and went down to his shop to do work on his trucks.
But when he came back to the house for lunch, Kristin said, she knew something was wrong. She checked his temperature and blood oxygen level, which was in the low 90s instead of the normal range of 95 to 100, according to the Mayo Clinic.
So Kristin took him to urgent care, where he was officially diagnosed with the coronavirus. Over the next 10 days at home, Steve’s condition worsened to the point that Kristin had to take him to the Johnson County Healthcare Center.
“On April 5, I took him to the hospital here in Buffalo and they admitted him,” Kristin said. “They did a chest X-ray and a CT scan and found that he had pretty severe COVID pneumonia at that point. So that was almost 10 days into the illness.”
Steve spent just one night at the healthcare center, however, before being transferred by ambulance to Billings Clinic in Montana. In Billings, Steve’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and on April 9 he was put on a ventilator and eventually intubated to help him breathe.
Back in Buffalo, travel matters for the remainder of the Rogers family were complicated when they all tested positive for COVID or displayed symptoms, meaning none of them could immediately travel to Billings to see critically ill Steve.
Kristin got out of quarantine first on April 9, but their kids had to remain quaratined until April 20, so she headed to Billings on April 12 without them. There, she was initially unable to be in the same room as Steve because he was in isolation.
“I pleaded with them (hospital staff),” she said. “I’m like, ‘I just need five minutes. I just have to hold his hand.’ At this point, they are telling me we’re about at a 50-50 shot whether he’s going to pull through or not.”
Eventually, Kristin persuaded the nurses to dress her in full personal protective equipment and give her 10 minutes in the room with Steve, where she sat and held his hand for the first time in over a week.
During the worst of Steve’s illness, Kristin, a self-proclaimed worrier, said she couldn’t help but think of the worst-case scenario.
“I kept telling myself, ‘I’m 41 years old, I don’t want to be a widow of six kids,’” she said.
So, she leaned on God, and found that not only did her faith help her through the situation, but it was actually strengthened.
“I’ve been very physically, emotionally and mentally drained,” she said. “But, I’ve never been spiritually drained, which to me, is like a miracle in and of itself, because this is obviously the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through.”
And that strengthened faith has helped her deal with the difficulty of having to be strong not only for herself but also for her kids, who range in age from 5 to 15.
The age range has made it difficult, she said, because her older kids who are more understanding of the situation were worried that their dad was going to die, while the younger kids were upset that he was away from home and sad that he missed his birthday party.
For Steve’s birthday, the kids had root beer floats and balloons and are excited to have a big party when their dad comes home.
“We’ve had lots of tears, but they’ve hung in there and they’ve been just as strong as their daddy,” Kristin said. “They’re just really strong, and I’ve been so proud of them.”
In Billings, Steve was taken out of isolation after 25 days and was completely sedated when Kristin was able to see him the day he was removed. He’s since been moved from Billings Clinic to Advanced Care Hospital of Montana, where he remains and is undergoing rehabilitation.
Since early May, Steve has been posting updates on his Facebook page, joking that he doesn’t recommend the COVID-19 diet plan because of its side effects, but “on the plus side, I’m down 69 pounds!”
He also posted a video update showing the lack of tubes attached to his body and thanking everyone for their prayers and support.
Adding to the difficulties of the situation, Kristin said, is the financial impact coronavirus has taken on the family outside of Steve’s immediate illness.
Weekly drives to Billings are expensive, and the short-term housing that has been previously available for family members visiting loved ones in the hospital has been temporarily closed because of the coronavirus.
“So, the kids and I have been going up Wednesday and then we come home Friday,” Kristin said. “The hotels in Billings are like $80 more a night for the weekend, so we just try to come back here for the weekend.”
Kristin said she is trying to make the trips cheaper by, for example, cooking meals beforehand for the kids to heat up at the hotels.
The Rogerses also have animals at home, so finding people to take care of them while they are away is logistically challenging. In addition, the Rogerses run a trucking company out of Buffalo, but they currently have no drivers to keep things running.
To help, a GoFundMe set up in early April for the Rogers family has raised a little over $9,000 and an upcoming fundraiser at the Bomber Mountain Civic Center on June 4 with dinner, music and a silent and live auction will help raise money for the family’s medical expenses.
Kristin said she is grateful for the community support and could not have gotten through the situation without the help of so many people.
“We don’t have any family here, and I feel like this community has been more family oriented than I could have ever imagined,” she said. “Just some people that have stepped up, helped with financial stuff, kid stuff, house stuff, it’s been absolutely phenomenal.”
Steve is now on the road to recovery, Kristin said, with the hole in his lung the main obstacle keeping him from coming home.
Doctors are about to begin a noninvasive procedure that will hopefully inflame the area around Steve’s lungs, which will create a seal around the hole that can heal.
“I think the doctor said there’s about an 80% success rate of this procedure,” she said. “So if it takes and it seals, then he can come home within a few weeks.”