Surviving the coronavirus: ‘Just be grateful you’re alive’

The highly contagious coronavirus has killed dozens of people in Georgia and stricken thousands. But along with heartbreaking stories of loss are those of survival.

Five from Metro Atlanta tell how they beat the virus

The numbers are staggering and rising by the day. The highly contagious coronavirus has killed dozens of people in Georgia and stricken thousands.

But along with heartbreaking stories of loss are those of survival. Folks from around our state, from different backgrounds and walks of life, have dealt with similar miserable symptoms but are now on their own paths to recovery. They say they are proof the coronavirus should be taken seriously but isn’t necessarily a death sentence. They are sharing their experiences to highlight the gravity of the situation we all now face, while offering hope.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Everything you need to know about the coronavirus

Chip Burger, 59, Milton

“Just be grateful you’re alive”

As doctors and nurses scurried around him, Chip Burger wasn’t sure he would live.

“I’m circling the drain here,” he recalled.

Burger spent nine days in the hospital, including several in intensive care, being treated for the coronavirus. Now back home, Burger feels lucky and credits the medical heroes who saved him.

“Just be grateful you’re alive. Appreciate the little things,” Burger said. “Even in this craziness, there’s still so many things that are good.”

Burger was exhausted, had a nasty cough and no appetite. But the coronavirus never crossed his mind. Medical staff at an urgent care center heard the crackly sound in his chest and sent him straight to the Wellstar North Fulton Hospital emergency room. He definitely had pneumonia and needed extra oxygen, he was told. Doctors in the emergency room suspected COVID-19.

“They were certain right off the bat that that’s what they were dealing with,” he said.

The day he was able to walk with a nurse to a room on a regular floor, a doctor told him how lucky he was.

“No one with the level of infection you had has lived,” Burger heard the doctor say.

Other patients, he learned, were not so lucky. “People were dying and it was horrifying,” Burger said. He followed doctors’ orders while in the hospital and is grateful for all of the medical staff members who treated him.

“They are so exceptional and so brave and true heroes,” he said. “They are putting themselves at risk for other people.”

— Alexis Stevens

Rea Peterson (left) spent several days at Wellstar Paulding Hospital after being diagnosed with the coronavirus and pneumonia. (Family photo)

Rea Peterson, 51, Dallas

“I think I’ve got the flu”

Rea Patterson, who lives near the Cobb-Paulding county line, told his doctor he was achy and had a fever. Days later, he wasn’t any better. He couldn’t catch his breath. His doctor sent him straight to the emergency room.

“I’m glad I went to the hospital when I did because it could’ve gotten worse,” Peterson said. “It was the flu on steroids.”

His doctor had tested him days earlier for the coronavirus, but the results weren’t in. At Wellstar Paulding hospital, Peterson was diagnosed with pneumonia. Two swabs, one at his doctor’s office and the second at the hospital, confirmed he had COVID-19.

Peterson spent three nights in the hospital, separated from his wife and two children, before returning home to continue his recovery. He knows he’s fortunate ones and urges people to heed the warnings of public health officials.

“People really need to take this more seriously than they are,” he said. “If you’re not feeling good or you get tested, keep your butt at home.”

Peterson’s wife, Melanie, has developed symptoms. She hasn’t been able to get tested.

— Alexis Stevens

Marietta City Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Credit: City of Marietta

Credit: City of Marietta

Cheryl Richardson, 59, Marietta 

 “The pain was laughing at the Aleve”

Two weeks after she was diagnosed with the coronavirus, Marietta City Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson is slowly resuming the life she led before the virus upended her routine.

Richardson, who was tested and diagnosed in mid-March, said she’s now symptom-free. She still has no energy, though, and sleeps most of the day. She has been able to perform some work and City Council-related duties at home.

Her symptoms started suddenly. She woke up around 1:30 a.m. March 11 with a fever and a cough. She didn’t go to the City Council meeting scheduled for that night, and tried to manage her symptoms. The cough was unrelenting, and wouldn’t let up after taking numerous doses of cough syrup and puffs from her inhaler. Allergic to codeine, Richardson says she resorted to taking Aleve.

“The pain was laughing at the Aleve,” she said.

She visited her doctor’s office the following day and was tested for the virus. The test came back positive March 16, she said. She was ordered to stay home until she was symptom-free for at least 72 hours and had finished her medication.

Richardson said the precautions are necessary because public health officials warn that people can carry the virus while having no symptoms, and can pass the infection to others. She has no patience for anyone ignoring warnings.

“Some people are just thinking about themselves,” she said. “There are people who have no consideration for the fact that they could be asymptomatic and give it to their grandmother or to a friend’s mother.”

— Kristal Dixon

Cathy Wood continues to recover after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. "This is nothing like the flu," she said. (Family photo)

Cathy Wood, 56, Marietta

“I don’t think I’m gonna make it”

Cathy Wood isn’t sure how she contracted the coronavirus. But she remembers the exact moment she got a horrible cough. It was the afternoon of March 10, and she wrapping up work as the practice administrator for a doctor’s office.

“It came out of nowhere,” Wood said. “It just kept getting worse as I was going home.”

The next day, she had the worst headache she’d ever had. She couldn’t smell anything, had no appetite and had a fever. There was no way she could return to her job at Atlanta Diabetes Associates in that condition. Several days passed and Wood saw no improvement.

“I don’t think I’m gonna make it,” she told her boyfriend, Dr. Bruce Bode. “I don’t think I can go a second week like this.”

Bode, an endocrinologist, was able to get a coronavirus test for Wood, but it took several days before she got the positive result. Bode stayed in a separate room, but brought her meals and encouraged Wood to stay hydrated.

“I stayed in the room for 14 days sick, pretty much on my own with him standing at the door checking on me,” Wood said. “It was horrible. My ribs were sore. My stomach muscles were sore.”

Wood says neither Bode nor her children have had symptoms, and her 81-year-old mother is also healthy. Her co-workers have also avoided the virus, she said.

“That was my biggest concern. Oh my god, how many people did I infect?” she said.

She’s on the mend and continuing to improve, hopeful she won’t have any lingering effects from the coronavirus. Wood didn’t go to the hospital, but wonders if she should have.

“It’s nothing like the flu. I’ve had the flu. This is nothing like that,” she said. “It’s scary because you really do think you’re going to die.”

— Alexis Stevens

Yvonne Lloyd, 68, developed symptoms after a skiing trip to Idaho. She spent a week at Grady Memorial Hospital. (Photo: courtesy Yvonne Lloyd)

Yvonne Lloyd, 68, Vinings

“Getting better every day”

Yvonne Lloyd is beyond grateful to everyone who cared for her during a week-long stay at Grady Memorial Hospital. After a week recovering at home, Lloyd had 90 lunches from a local Panera Bread restaurant delivered to those in the Grady emergency room and two separate wings where she was treated for the coronavirus.

She was able to return to her Vinings home on March 22, but Lloyd is continuing to stay quarantined, fearing a relapse.

“I’m getting better every day,” she said.

Lloyd felt fine in early March when she returned from a snow skiing trip in Idaho. Days later, she made back-to-back trips to the Piedmont Hospital emergency room.

“I was not feeling any better,” she said.

Lloyd was given fluids and antibiotics, and doctors suspected she had the coronavirus, though they didn’t have the test to confirm it. When she continued to get worse, Lloyd followed the advice of one of her daughter’s friends and drove herself to Grady, where she was admitted.

“I was there for one week,” she said.

At Grady, Lloyd was treated for pneumonia and later learned she tested positive for COVID-19. While it was difficult being away from her two grown daughters and grand-daughter, Lloyd praised those who took care of her while she was in the hospital.

“The doctors and nurses, everyone was excellent,” she said.

— Alexis Stevens

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