by Jim Boyle


The family of Rob and Kathy Snavely, of Otsego, have been put through the ringer by the coronavirus, and the empty spot at their dinner table on Christmas Day makes it clear they still have a ways go on their journey.

It was at a fever pitch at Thanksgiving when Kathy’s husband, Rob, was hospitalized in Alexandria, and her son was hospitalized at a different hospital before he would be airlifted to Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis, where he is now.

Kathy solemnly celebrated Thanksgiving with her daughter, Rachael, after preparing a meal complete with a turkey, mashed potatoes and corn. She was thankful for much.

“I was thankful,” she said. “Rob was getting the care he needed in Alexandria. Rachael had been helped by an antibodies treatment. John was getting the help he needed. We were being held up by thousands of prayers.”

Rob, 65, is back in his rightful seat at the head of the table after the fine folks at a hospital in Alexandria nursed him back to the health. He raves about their care, noting it has been good elsewhere for his daughter and son. He’s been amazed by health care professionals.

The Snavelys’ 36-year-old daughter, Rachael, one of their four children, managed to get by with a concerning trip to the emergency room and a scary follow-up visit. The fact that she was born premature allowed her to receive helpful antibody treatment on the first visit, but worries of blood clots sent her back for another ER visit.

The Snavelys’ 33-year-old son John, however, the third of three in the family to be hit by violently by COVID-19, remains in an ICU bed while the family clings to their faith.

They speak confidently that everything is in God’s hands and they pray John will come home. He is on a ventilator of sorts called an ECMO machine, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The machine is serving as an artificial lung to remove blood before sending it back to the body in a more oxygenated state, his family members said.

He was at CentraCare in St. Cloud at first, but doctors there said he needed more treatment than they could give. They declared he needed to be put on this ECMO machine.

One opened at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis and he has been there since. He’s in rough shape, and the family has been told to prepare for a marathon and not a sprint.

“It won’t be weeks,” Kathy said. “It will be months.”

Rob said it’s pretty sobering to realize you might not be going home or that one of your children might not be coming home.

“But whatever happens, we know where we are going,” he said. “Our sins have been forgiven, and it’s nice to know everything is in God’s hands. To truly believe is powerful.

“I love John, and Jesus loves him even more.”

In addition to in-person visits with John that are allowed (one person per day), the family meets with him via video conferencing on a daily basis, which included Christmas Day 2021.

John’s younger sister, Hannah, and her husband and their children, who live in Ohio, were also home for the holiday. They joined Kathy, Rob, Rachael and the Snavelys’ youngest child, David, 29.

John still responds to certain commands and is able to squeeze a hand and wiggle his toes. The family hopes and prays that John can hear the family’s voices and follow along at some level to feel apart of things. And it’s in that spirit the Snavelys shared their time together over the Christmas holiday eating meals and putting puzzles together.

“That includes the teasing him, referencing inside jokes or shared memories,” Rachael said. “He may not remember our conversations later, but hopefully in the moment he will enjoy it.”

For the family, it represents a sense of normalcy, Rachael said.

Before his hospitalization, John could be described as a neatnik with his room in perfect order. The self-employed website developer has an “obsession” with Apple products, LEGOs, anime, computer games and politics. His life now is limited by levels of sedation, which have been used to deal with low blood pressure and oxygen levels from COVID-19. The hope is someday to lift up on the sedation enough to bring him out of an induced coma to have him take back over his bodily functions.

Innocent beginnings

The Snavely family’s journey began innocently enough on Saturday, Nov. 13, when Rob began feeling like he was getting “a touch of the flu.” Symptoms took hold and worsened over the weekend. Rachael began feeling like she was coming down with something the next night while she was at work at Kwik Trip in Otsego.

By Tuesday, Nov. 16, they still hadn’t rebounded, and although they were still convinced it was the flu they figured they better get tested to rule out COVID-19.

By then John also began to show similar symptoms.

Each one worsened: fever, body aches, declining appetite, cough, no energy, dozing in and out of sleep 24/7.

It was on Thursday, Nov. 18 — Rachael’s 36th birthday — results came back positive for COVID-19.

Rob, who works in the IT industry for a company called Softronics, would be quarantining with Rachael and Kathy, who, so far, had managed to avoid the virus.

“I tried everything possible to make my family as comfortable as I could, yet trying to social distance, disinfect and sanitize as much as physically possible,” Kathy said.

On Saturday, Nov. 20, Kathy brought Rob and Rachael to urgent care because of difficulties they were having. The following Monday she took them to the emergency room at a nearby hospital.

Rachael had a chest X-ray that revealed COVID pneumonia was the reason for her shallow, labored breathing; she was given the monoclonal antibody infusion and released with an inhaler after 5 1/2 hours. Rachael was a micro-preemie, which made her a good candidate for the antibody infusion.

She was already familiar with the use of inhalers and a nebulizer, which are part of her regimen to a full recovery.

Rob had been experiencing low oxygen at home for a period of time and they determined he needed to be hospitalized. They began looking for a hospital bed for him. Eventually they found one in Alexandria.

Kathy took Rachael home on Saturday, Nov. 20, and Rob was transferred by ambulance to Alexandria on Sunday, Nov. 21.

The following day, Rachael was coughing so violently, they arranged a phone visit with a nurse. The nurse expressed concern about blood in the phlegm Rachael was coughing up and highly recommended she go back to emergency room that day. Rachael wanted to wait one more day to see if she improved.

During that time, John’s condition took a turn for the worse.

Kathy loaded her son and daughter into the family van and headed to the emergency room, wondering what the fate of her husband and two children would be.

Rob was in a hospital bed in Alexandria and doctors cautioned that the next few days would be critical to his survival. Her daughter was coughing up blood. And her son’s oxygen levels had all of a sudden plummeted. He collapsed on the stairs after exiting from his downstairs bedroom to come upstairs. By the time he was in the van, his oxygen levels had dropped to 48%.

Worries that her husband, Rob, may not be coming home, and the thoughts of her son, John, possibly being admitted to a hospital swirled in her mind. And what about Rachael? Would doctors find blood clots in her daughter’s lungs?

She dropped them off and headed back to the van to wait — and weep. “I cried out: ‘Have mercy on my family,’ ” she said.

After a few hours, Rachael called to say that she was finished and able to return home. She was advised she did not have blood clots.

John would stay, but they had to keep him in emergency until a bed opened up somewhere. After 11 hours in the emergency room, a bed opened for John at the hospital where he was.

Over the next few days John’s breathing worsened and the hospital staff felt that John needed more care than what they were able to provide for him. During that same time period, Rob began improving.

Kathy was awakened by a phone call on the Sunday after Thanksgiving from the hospital to say that a bed opened in the St. Cloud ICU. John was transferred by ambulance shortly afterward.

Tuesday, Nov. 30, Rob was able to come home after nine days in the hospital. John, however, was put on a ventilator that same day.

On Dec. 1, a procedure was performed to try to clear out John’s lungs; unfortunately, it didn’t seem to help much. On Dec. 3, Kathy learned her son John was not in a good place.

“The doctor said that John was maxed out on all the machines,” Kathy said, noting the doctor showed her John’s lung X-ray and had said the only thing really left to do was to get John on an ECMO (artificial lung) machine. “But he’d already called around, and none were available. He said they were not giving up, but he stressed the seriousness of the situation over and over.”

About three hours later, Kathy received a call from John’s doctor — an ECMO machine had opened up at Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis. John was later airlifted to Abbott and hooked up to the ECMO that evening.

“With God, all things are possible,” Kathy said.

On Friday, Dec. 10, they removed John’s ventilator, replacing it with a tracheostomy — believing it to be better for the long haul.

Rob started back to work on Dec. 3 and Rachael started back to work part-time at Kwik Trip, which she said felt pretty good. She once dreamed of working in education, and in addition to studying for it, she had even worked as an AmeriCorps tutor and an assistant in ISD 728 Schools before realizing it was not for her. Kwik Trip suits her just fine.

The Snavely family members say they are grateful for all the wonderful care from the hospital staffs at the various hospitals and especially to God for his healing touch and mercy.

Kathy said they have also been touched and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love by so many through flowers, meals, cards, gifts and prayers from neighbors, friends and members of their church community at Nowthen Alliance.

“Faith and family have been instrumental in keeping our spirits up,” Rachael said. “It’s been a sad and stressful time, but everyone’s concern and support have been so uplifting. People have showed compassion in so many tangible ways: flowers, money, cards, groceries, meals, stamps, etc. It’s refreshing to hear of so many praying for our family too.”

To follow John’s story, you can visit his Go Fund Me page for regular updates:

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