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Recovering from COVID

Rehabilitation Patient Gains Strength and Returns Home


On May 13, employees of the University of Vermont Health Network- Elizabethtown Community Hospital lined the hallway to send off a very special patient. Albert Laduke, the hospital’s first rehabilitation patient recovering from COVID, was strong enough to go home.

The tearful farewell came four weeks after Mr. Laduke’s arrival. When Mr. Laduke, 86, first arrived at Elizabethtown Community Hospital (ECH), he was very weak and had trouble walking. He was transferred to ECH after more than three weeks in intensive care at the UVM Health Network - Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh.

“We have a lot of experience helping patients recuperate after surgery or illness through in-hospital physical, occupational, and speech therapy,” said ECH Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Julie Tromblee. “It’s what we do. And we are well-suited to care for patients recovering from COVID in a safe and isolated environment.”

ECH’s nursing and physical therapy staff agree. Dr. Michael Theeman, physical therapist, says his team was prepared to meet the challenges of working with patients recovering from COVID. “We were well informed and had lots of training on how to prevent the spread of the virus in the physical therapy setting. We stepped up safety precautions in the facility to be able to help Mr. Laduke regain his strength,” said Dr. Theeman. “He worked very hard so he could be as independent as possible and return home.”

Until two diagnostic tests in a row came back negative, Mr. Laduke spent his time in an isolated room, outfitted with negative air pressure to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination from room to room. Those who interacted with Mr. Laduke did so in full protective equipment, including an N95 mask, goggles, face shield, gown, and gloves.

“I cannot imagine being isolated from loved ones, and even from your [hospital] caregivers that way,” said Denise McLaughlin, RN. Using a tablet in the patient’s room and a computer at the nurses station, staff would use Zoom to check in on Mr. Laduke as often as possible. “His family was also wonderful about checking in with him. Fortunately, his room was on the ground floor so loved ones could visit through the window.”

To help lift his spirits, Ms. McLaughlin celebrated when testing confirmed Mr. Laduke was no longer COVID positive and could be moved out of isolation. “I told him that when his test came back negative, I would show up with pom poms. I couldn’t find any pom poms so I brought balloons instead.”

Ms. McLaughlin said she felt prepared to work with patients recovering from COVID. “Early on, our department leaders armed us with knowledge, infection prevention training, and support. We want to help. This is why we became nurses,” she said.

Of his stay at ECH, Mr. Laduke says the hospital staff were, “fantastic and made it just like being home.” He says he is thrilled to be home with his family and grateful for their support.

“It will continue to be important to focus on flattening the curve and to ensure there are resources to treat acute COVID patients,” said Ms. Tromblee. “Mr. Laduke’s story is a reminder that it is just as important for us to be prepared to support patients in their recovery.”