BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – Jerry Krogmeier is a 71-year-old Marine who just fought the toughest battle of his life. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t remember much about it.
From April 10 through the beginning of June, Krogmeier was at the Veteran’s Administration hospital with COVID-19. At one point he was given less than a 20% chance of survival.
Kim Krogmeier, Jerry’s wife of the past 45 years, said that was a punch she wasn’t ready for, and wanted to share Jerry’s story with others so they didn’t take the virus lightly.
Many who get infected from the novel coronavirus and develop COVID-19 experience what can safely be described as a very weak cold. Some only experience a loss of taste or smell and then go back to life after a few weeks. Some have no symptoms at all.
Jerry found the other side of that battle.
“After two days I was told they had to put him on a ventilator and I should ‘hope for the best’,” Kim said. “It was so fast… I wasn’t ready for that.”
She had taken Jerry to the VA Hospital toward the end of March when he wasn’t feeling well. He was evaluated, and like so many others, was sent home because he wasn’t sick enough to be admitted.
After several days when his symptoms worsened, Kim drove him back to the hospital where they admitted him on April 10 with COVID-19. Kim was sent home to self-quarantine for 14 days. She wasn’t tested.
Two days later he was on a ventilator, in a coma, and was fighting for his life.
Jerry said he remembers nothing of the month and a half at the VA, but he recalls dreams of his wife.
Kim said the staff at the VA hospital were wonderful and called her every day, sometimes multiple times each day to keep her informed of the progress.
“They would give me his oxygen numbers and what level they were treating him at. Some days he was on 100% oxygen because things were so bad, other days they would call and say they were able to turn it down to 50% and it would go on and on like that,” she said.
Kim wrote data from the calls with the doctor in a diary so she could remember and eventually share with Jerry, She kept another to record her thoughts and emotions to help her cope with not being able to see or touch her husband while others fought to save his life.
Kim said the first couple weeks were touch and go and “mega” praying was the only thing she could think of to do that could help.
“That first week they told me he only had a 20% chance of surviving. They flat out told me and didn’t sugar coat anything,” Kim said.
“As the calls kept coming and I kept calling, too, they would say he would take a step forward, but then take three steps backward. Then I would get a call and they would say he took four steps forward,” she said.
Toward the end of May, doctors made a strategic decision to take Krogmeier off the ventilators due to some encouraging numbers, but they had to do a tracheotomy to support higher lung function and put him in respiratory rehabilitation at a specialty hospital in Davenport.
When Jerry came off the ventilator he said he remembered nothing of the experience.
“I have no recollection at all. I don’t even know how fast I came out,” Jerry said.
“The first thing I really remember is someone telling me to try and move my fingers and toes, and they wouldn’t move.”
Jerry is a Type 2 diabetic and he says he has residual effects of Agent Orange from Vietnam – but no one wants to talk about that, he said. Krogmeier was stationed in the DMZ in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 as part of his three years in the Marine Corps.
He said he doesn’t fear anything, but this fight was a different kind of fight.
“I was 21 then. You could’ve shot me with a cannon and not hurt me. We’re all invincible at that age,” he said.
After more than month at the Davenport facility, Jerry was transferred to Parkview Manor in Wellman, where his respiratory rehabilitation continued through Friday.
At one point, the medical staff said Kim would be able to come up and see her husband. They had done some video sessions prior to that, but Kim said said going to see Jerry was like a first date for her.
“I was so excited. I wanted to smell nice and pretty up for him,” she said. “He said he doesn’t remember much about it, but he does recall dreaming about my voice, so… maybe those weren’t dreams.”
But today Jerry said he’s still fighting to just wake up every morning. He said he has most of his faculties back, but the tracheotomy has left a strain on his voice… a frail reminder of another battle waged.
“I guess I’m doing well enough for them to send me home,” he said. “Most people heal better at home than a nursing home just because of the familiar surroundings.”
Kim picked him up from Wellman in a restored 1959 Chevy truck that the two had restored over the past year. She hadn’t driven the truck and wanted to pick him up in it as a surprise.
The couple founded Pen City Cruisers and put on vintage car shows and donate much of the proceeds to charitable efforts in and around Lee County.
She said doctors haven’t really told her why the coronavirus hit Jerry so hard. So it isn’t known if the diabetes was a mitigating factor or age, or even the Agent Orange, that both she and Jerry kept referring to as the only real other pre-existing health issue.
Jerry hadn’t smoked in more than 50 years and had no other health issues that are typically associated with the more severe cases of the disease.
He said before he got sick he remembers hearing that the disease would affect the older population worse.
Kim said she was never told to get tested, because she never showed symptoms of the disease at any point. She did however have her blood tested and it showed antibodies for the coronavirus.
“Apparently I had it at some point, but I never had any symptoms.”
Jerry said doctors haven’t discussed what he went through with him. He said it doesn’t matter at this point.
“It’s irrelevant to discuss it with me. I just don’t remember so much of it. At a later date maybe that would be fine, but they kept Kim up to date every day and that’s what’s important.”
He said he feels better being at home, but he can tell it’s going to be long recovery.
“Nobody’s made any prognosis going forward,” he said. “But it’s gonna be a while, and it’s gonna have to go slow.”