Eagan veteran Roger Myren voices he feels fortunate to have survived COVID-19, and now he possesses a new lease on life after fighting to stay alive when the virus nearly took his life away.

Roger acquired COVID-19 at Christmas in 2020. The family took all the precautions to protect each other and those whom they love. They stopped traveling in March of 2020. It is difficult to trace how he acquired the virus. His wife Tracy and son Alex also acquired the virus, but both felt better after a week.

Oxygen saturation drop

Roger’s health continued to go downhill in the next week with COVID symptoms. “I am not much of a doctor person,” he said.

His wife took him to Fairview Hospital in Burnsville on Jan. 8, and he was sent to the emergency room. Then they sent him home with an oxygen saturation monitor and told him to recuperate at home. Tracy stayed in constant contact with the ER nurses as his oxygen saturation levels were dropping and within two days it had dropped to 84 percent. Roger was admitted around Jan. 8.

“That was the last time I saw him for a long time,” Tracy said.

Roger recalls how he vaguely remembers the timetable, recalling how the nurses told him “We don’t want to see you back here.”

This veteran was active and did not emobdy any any underlying chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, or asthma. But this body could not fight off the virus and it nearly took his life.

Two days later he was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul and was placed on high flow oxygen and given a COVID cocktails of medicines as he fought off the COVID pneumonia in both lungs and he also had acute respiratory disorder syndrome.

A few days later, he was placed in the Intensive Care Unit in early January and then moved to a regular hospital room. But he returned to the ICU two days later.

Tracy recalls how hard it was not being able to be at his bedside. “I could talk to him every day, but he couldn’t talk to me because he couldn’t breathe.”

Roger was able to talk on the phone, but he could only say about 10 words as he recalls this time is still foggy to him.

As a family of faith, Tracy said “It is awful and it was really tough, doctors in ICU would call me every day for six weeks, and I said I cannot take this anymore,” she said.

Tracy recalls the doctors would call with daily updates and sometimes they needed to deliver bad news like he had a very small brain bleed, he had blood clots in his leg and arm, and he even had a gastrointestinal bleed. Her daughter stepped in to help with communications with the medical team.

Then Roger needed to be intubated and placed on a ventilator. Before that scary procedure, he called his wife to share computer passwords and safe combinations. Faith is faith when it is tested like that, the couple said. When there is no guarantee he would survive and come out of the coma-like condition. But Roger’s body fought, and he was able to leave the ICU in about four weeks and then he needed to be weaned off the ventilator and medications.

“He lost every muscle in his body, he had no neck muscles, no back muscles and he could not lift a pencil, no muscles at all, anywhere because they were depleted,” Tracy said.

“It took at least a couple weeks to get your frame of mind back because your brain has to readjust, refocus and wake up again,” he said. The brain is just like a muscle that undergoes atrophy.

When asked if the couple ever faced a health challenge, they shared their son had a traumatic brain injury. Roger jokes with his son and says today they are twins because they share the same scar from the trac and feeding tube.

Rehabilitation progress

Roger looks and feels stronger and took rehabilitation at M Health Fairview Hospital in Burnsville for three weeks. He was able to go home on April 15. He recalls one day in the hospital before rehab, he was told it was going to be an exciting day because he would learn to walk again. This progress was quite literally like taking baby steps toward recovery.

“A big muscular guy came in my room and said you are going to walk today,” Roger said smiling.

In rehabilitation, he build up strength and stamina to walk 1,000 steps on an exercise machine. But he still not able to walk. He had to sit down on stairs at home due to extreme shortness of breath just walking a short distance.

“He needed to open up his chest because he could not walk,” she said.

Tracy applied for a grant from the American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors that allowed the purchase a NuStep exercise machine he can use at home.

Today his scared lungs are extremely sensitive, and he cannot breathe well outside on the smoky weather days, and will not be able to venture outdoors this winter on extreme cold temperature days due to his weak lungs. He also does not want to fall on ice or snow since he is still regaining his balance.

“We want him to be as safe as possible,” his wife said.

When asked about recovery and what he wishes to share about the long-term side effects of the virus, Myren said “I just want everyone to know it is very dangerous that you can get it like my wife and son, or you could have it like I have got it, and I would encourage everyone to be as safe as possible because if it goes the other way, it is a life-changing event.”

“It changed my life forever, and it took away a lot of very active years,” Myren said.

When asked what he thinks about Minnesotans and Americans who protest mask wearing by declaring personal freedoms are being infringed upon, Myren said “I enjoy that everyone has freedom, but there is also the other school of thought and concern if you don’t get your vaccination, you may be hurting someone else, so it is a very complicated issue.”

Regaining strength and learning to walk has been a lot of work, he said. But he is happy because he was given a new lease on life and is making progress even though he has not regained all the feeling in his body today.

“I have about 80 percent and my right arm is weaker,” he said, as the his post COVID symptoms resemble a stroke aftermath.

Roger chose to become part of a blind study that follows long-haul COVID patients.

A University of Minnesota doctor asked him, and he gave permission. The pulmonary physician, a Harvard University-educated doctor who completed his residency at Yale University, is working as part of the COVID-19 blind study. Since it is a blind study, Roger does not know if he is part of the patient group who received stem cells, or if he is in he placebo group. He will find out at the end of the study.

Military career

Born and raised in Nelson, Wis., a small border town to Minnesota, Roger has made a home in Eagan with his wife since 1988. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 1990 when he was a comptroller with the Department of Minnesota and worked as a claims coordinator for the American Legion Family Hospital Association. He did payroll, taxes and worked with auditors and accounts payable and accounts receivable for 14 years.

“When I was a comptroller, I would visit all the posts throughout the state at conventions and fall conferences from St. Cloud to Morris,” he said.

As a young man, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970 and took basic training in San Diego. “I was kind of a recruiter’s dream because when I went to Winona to enlist, the recruiter asked what I wanted to do in the Navy and I said, “Do you have ships?” he said smiling. He didn not know until later he could have negotiated a school.

In the Navy, he served his country during the Vietnam War and worked on an amphibian ship that hauled U.S. marines and equipment to Vietnam. Then he took young soldiers out on mid-shipment cruises that offered young men and women hands-on experience to witness what it is like to be out on the ocean. He compared as the Navy’s version of the West Pointe Cadettes Academy.

Roger served two years on Midway Island, the halfway point between Hawaii and Japan, and said “That is where the famous Battle of Midway was when the Americans beat the Japanese, where we sunk four of their super carriers.”

Then for years Roger worked in Minneapolis as the recruiter in charge at Fort Snelling in a fulfilling part of his military career, he said.

“It was the most rewarding because many, many of the young men I put in have already retired with 20 or 30 years of service themselves,” he said.

As a member of the Wabasha Post #50, Roger is grateful for all his fellow Legionnaire members who cared, prayed, wished him a speedy recovery and sent him dozens of cards.

Road to recovery

This veteran’s road to recovery has been bumpy with a few scary detours. He remains optimistic because he is making progress, and personally feels fortunate he does not a kidney dialysis machine or mobile oxygen like other long haulers who have recovered from COVID.

“I am grateful for what I’ve got, but it isn’t where I came from, but I realized it never will be where I came from, you know because I have some permanent lung damage and I am always going to be short of breath,” he said.

“There are a lot of things to be thankful for and do I wish I had where I came from? Yeah, but the good Lord has his plan,” he said.

Today he works to get stronger as a founding member of the Eagan Lifetime Fitness and las year prior to getting sock, he and his son rode motorcycles to the Black Hills and went deer hunting. He has hired a personal trainer at Lifetime who helps him improve his cardio, strength and building endurance as he is working on being able to do pushups.

When asked what he want to tell the population who are uncertain about getting the vaccine or who are still doing their research, this veteran shared his thoughts and candor.

Like all of us, Roger has friends who are unvaccinated.

“I just feel that I don’t want to see anyone go through what I went through, so for their sake I hope it never catches them and they have to pay the price I had to, but I guess we live in a free country and that is why I spent 21 years in the military.”

Contact Kara Hildreth at kara.hildreth@apgecm.com.

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