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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Rick Huggins is back home after being hospitalized for nearly two months — much of it spent in the ICU fighting COVID-19.

He and his wife, Patti, are able to enjoy again the simplicity of sharing a couch together.

“It means the world to me that he’s, he’s right here,” Patti said.

Rick, a 51-year-old cycling enthusiast, got sick in March with a fever spiking to 105 degrees. They had just finished traveling to Florida and Ohio in recent weeks. Patti insisted on taking him to the hospital, where he tested positive.

“So I texted her, I said, ‘They’re gonna intubate me, it might be a day or two before we can speak to each other,’ and it ended up being a month before we could speak to each other,” Rick said.

Rick endured nine blood transfusions and was on dialysis three times. He was also on a ventilator for at least a month total while at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul. The hospital has been converted to solely treat COVID-19 patients.

Emily, Rick and Patti Huggins (credit: CBS)

Dr. Farha Ikramuddin serves as executive medical director of Rehab Shared Services for M Health Fairview. One of her roles at Bethesda is helping determine if a patient is healthy enough to be discharged, or must transition to a different facility for rehab.

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“One of the things that really stood out when I was examining him was how atrophied his muscles had become,” Ikramuddin said. “Many [patients] can go home. Many of them will not go home because they need something more.”

Rick lost more than 30 pounds, much of it muscle, while he was hospitalized. At some points he said he didn’t even have the strength to stand up.

“At one point my immune system started attacking, it went into overdrive and started attacking healthy tissue and they had to suppress that,” he said.

Rick doesn’t have any underlying health conditions and stays active by cycling, making it all the more perplexing as to why he got so sick.

“There may be environmental factors or genetic factors that we are not aware of that come into play,” Ikramuddin said. “There is no way to look at a person and say, OK, this person is going to have a mild disease. In some patients, the disease comes and goes … and in some patients it takes a toll.”

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As Rick’s health improved, FaceTime calls with family became the norm. His morale was often boosted by the compassionate staff at the hospital, as well as support from people on social media as Patti kept her relatives updated through Facebook.

“There’s some really great people out there who rallied around Rick and prayed. I mean, people from Vietnam to Ireland, all over,” Patti said.

After more than 50 days, he was healthy enough to go home. Patients must test negative for the virus twice before they’re allowed to leave. Those discharged get to ring a bell as music plays over the intercom.

“It is such a good feeling to hear that music, that somebody and is being discharged home,” Ikramuddin said.

On the drive to the hospital, the anticipation of finally seeing her husband overwhelmed Patti and their daughter, Emily.

“I think I cried a lot,” Patti said.

“She cried the whole way there, and I kept telling her, ‘Stop crying, you’re gonna mess up your makeup,'” Emily said.

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They were tears of joy, that were soon joined by a loving embrace this couple won’t ever forget.

“To see him in person for the first time in 50 some days, he kept saying, ‘You’re gonna be shocked, you’re gonna be shocked.’ And he just looked beautiful to me, even mask on and everything,” Patti said.

Now at home, Rick said he’s doing his best to gain back the weight he’s lost while also doing physical therapy. He knows it’ll be months again before he can hop on a bike, but he’s in no rush.

“I feel very fortunate, and I feel like I owe somebody something for my life,” Rick said.

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Jeff Wagner

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