Utah man returns home after spending 223 days in the ICU fighting COVID-19

Sep 2, 2021, 2:08 PM | Updated: 2:34 pm
utah man spends 223 days in icu with COVID...
Thomas Kearl leaving Intermountain Health Care after 223 days in the ICU. Photo: Intermountain Health Care

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man says his 223-day ICU ordeal started as a family get together, and ended with 10 out 12 of his family members testing positive for COVID-19.

Thomas Kearl said he was also sick, but the first test at a hospital came back negative.  He was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and sent home.

After four days with increasingly worse symptoms, Kearl says he woke up with a temperature of 105 degrees and couldn’t walk.  His wife and son drove him to the emergency room on January 11, 2021 where he was told he had a false negative on the first test.

Thomas Kearl leaving Intermountain Health Care on August 23, 2021 after 223 days in the ICU.

Then he said things got worse.  “On the second day doctors and nurses couldn’t keep my oxygen levels up.  So, they said the only thing to do was put me on a ventilator.”

“Things got fuzzy after that.”  said Kearl.  “I remember at one point waking up on a steel bed surrounded by ice to keep my temperature down.”

Utah man describes 223-day COVID-19 ICU stay

In a news conference with doctors from Intermountain Health Care, Kearl said he suffered every complications known from COVID-19.

“I had a couple of viral pneumonias, then a bacterial pneumonia.  Then I had renal failure then I had … I went septic, then I had Celiac so I ended up having an ileus — which I didn’t even know what meant.  Then I had MRSA and then I had pseudomonas — which is the mystery killer bacteria that they don’t know how to fight.” Kearl stated.

On top of all that, Kearl had a heart attack and had to be revived.

A rock and a hard place

At one point, doctors removed Kearl’s tracheal tube to see if he could breathe on his own.  But they had bad news.

“There are two paths: we can take all the pain away and let you pass in peace or we can put the trach tube back,” doctors told Kearl. 

Kearl stated, in a broken voice, he did not want another “trach,” saying he doesn’t recommend them to anyone.  But he also said he didn’t want to die.  And if it was a choice between dying and the tracheal tube, he’d go with being intubated again.

The Utah resident said he saw ‘behind the veil’ several times during his stay in the ICU fighting COVID.  He prayed often and thought about his family.

“I have too much live for.  I love my family, I love my kids, I love my three grandkids; so I kept fighting,” he said. 

On Tuesday, August 23, 2021, after 223 days in the hospital, Kearl was able to leave.  But his doctors say while the Utah resident no longer needs ICU care for COVID, he does still need up to 15 liters of oxygen a day just to move. The road ahead, they said, is still a tough one.

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