AVON, Ohio — Dr. Ken DeLuca has been a practicing psychologist for 35 years. The 75-year-old often guided people through life's obstacles and helped them get back on track.
Little did he know he would one day need to heed his own advice.
His story started like so many others. It was December, 2020, 10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I was sleepy, a little groggy, congested," Ken says. "I thought it was probably a sinus thing, but I also had some muscle aches. Just didn't feel well at all."
HIs wife Jan, a 71-year-old retired school teacher, sensed something was very wrong. On Dec. 10, she drove him to Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital. She didn't realize it would be the last time she'd touch him for nearly 90 days.
Shortly after he arrived, Ken was rushed into ICU, diagnosed with COVID pneumonia. The next day, doctors placed him on a ventilator, and that's where he'd spent the next 44 days.
For Jan, the toughest part was not being able to be with him. Like so many other COVID families experienced, nurses became the only link to her husband's progress. That's why Jan. 21, 2021, is such an important day for her.
"I believe a miracle occurred, because the man we knew and loved returned to us cognitively after 44 days on ventilator and trach," she told us. "His voice was quite raspy, due to trach, but through FaceTime, our entire family in Georgia, Michigan, Hawaii, and Ohio witnessed his turn around. This joy can barely be described in words."
Jan said the first words Ken clearly announced were "Life is hard," before saying he could use some whiskey. She laughs, because Ken doesn't drink.
When Ken finally got off the ventilator, he remembers seeing Jan through a window.
"I do remember one day being in there and Jan and a couple of our closest friends were outside the window of the room that I was in," he said. "I could wave to them and that was it."
As he continued to progress, he moved into two different rehab facilities. Ninety days later, he was able to return home.
"I've got to admit, I was fearful, he was fearful," Jan stated. "We knew that our dining room was becoming a hospital bed."
Ken came home with a myriad of hospital equipment and home health care aids. He also continued physical therapy at home until he was able to begin outpatient therapy, which he still does today.
"I still go every week, physical therapy, because of muscle weakness, balance issues, the numbness in my arm from the radial nerve damage issue," he said. "I'm still building strength up."
It's been a long process that, at times, wasn't easy. That's when the psychologist needed to think back on the advice he would give to others.
"I had worked with so many people over the years who went through mental health issues or even physical illness issues, and I always talked about 'No stinking thinking,' He explained. You can't have a negative attitude. You can't look at the glass half empty; you have to look at it half full.
"I know those sound cliche-ish, but the thing is, you really have to believe that to stay focused on that, and also it helped that my faith is very strong, too."
He wasn't alone.
"Our own kids have said to me, 'How did you stay positive? How did you stay strong?'" Jan remembered. "For me, it would've been faith, family, friends, health care workers that were strangers that became friends, and taking it one day at a time."
Small doses of encouragement from friends, family, and his physical therapists went a long way and kept Ken moving forward. He hopes his story will show others that recovery is a journey, taken one step at a time.
"You control your attitude and you can control which way you want to go," Ken said. "You decide if you want to look ahead or just complain about the past. The past is done, it's over with. We don't let it control us, so I always say 'Move forward. Learn from the past, but look forward to the future and keep going.'"
Ken has definitely taken his own advice: He visited family in Hawaii earlier this year and is doing his best to manage his long-haul symptoms without letting them get in the way of living his life.