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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Anyone who’d seen John Stokes in mid-April likely wouldn’t have predicted he’d be walking two miles today.

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“I would barely turn over in bed, I couldn’t sit up, I couldn’t stand,” he said.

It was April 12, and Stokes had just come off a ventilator after 12 days. He had been first admitted to the University of Minnesota and then transferred to Bethesda Hospital as soon as he was stable enough to make the ambulance trip.

Now, he’s been at home in Woodbury for three weeks.

“I’m feeling almost normal,” he said. “I don’t have the stamina, little weaker that I’m used to but every day I wake up feeling better.”

Stokes is 54 years old. He’s an active father who has spent years coaching baseball and hockey. Before COVID-19, he was busy traveling for work in medical sales. Besides a mild case of hypertension, he had no underlying conditions that would put him at risk for COVID-19 complications.

He’s not an unusual patient to come through the Bethesda Hospital intensive care unit right now.

“It’s highly variable how people respond,” said Dr. Susan Kline, one of Stokes’ doctors and a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Dr. Kline says Stokes’ recovery was likely helped by his age. He was also part of a trial where he was given the drug Remdesivir. Dr. Kline said preliminary studies have shown that drug can shorten stays on the ventilator.

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After coming off the ventilator, Stokes stayed in the hospital for another 10 days. There he worked with a team of occupational therapists to get his strength back.

“As he was progressing, he would share his story with me, so I would help him dig those pieces out,” said Wayne Zerr, an occupational therapist at M Health Fairview. “You could see him blossom and shine, it was an emotional moment for both of us.”

Stokes said he doesn’t remember anything about his time in the ICU. He was surprised to later learn senator Bernie Sanders had dropped out of the presidential race and friends had brought over Easter baskets for his kids. He said the experience was much harder on his family.

“We got to FaceTime him, but it was really different not holding his hand and telling him it would be ok,” said his wife Tammy.

Stokes may have picked up the virus while traveling for work back in March. No one in his family ever showed symptoms, but they all think they’ve been exposed.

They’re all grateful for the medical staff at the University of Minnesota and Bethesda. They’re also grateful for the community of friends, family and neighbors who showed up to help.

And, when they did, they were all reminded to not underestimate John Stokes.

“They said there’s no way you could do that,” he said. “I said well, we’re doing it.”

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Heather Brown