By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — At Mayo Clinic, 29 people right now are fighting COVID-19 in the Rochester ICU.

Health care teams are also tracking the patients who have survived the virus after their time in the hospital.

WCCO shares one man’s fight that lasted months, and how Mayo’s ICU Recovery Program is helping in the process.

It was late July when 50-year-old Chris Dellinger, who worked at a large retailer, came down with COVID-19.

“Me and my boss actually got it at the same time,” Dellinger said.

Ten days in, Dellinger assumed he had gotten away with mild symptoms.

“And then, wham. I just stared to have issues breathing,” he said.

Dellinger ended up in an urgent care in Winona, where he eventually got worse and had to be airlifted to Mayo Clinic. Hooked up to an ECMO machine to act as his heart and lungs, Dellinger went through seven different chest tubes to keep his lungs from collapse. He spent three weeks in a medically-induced coma, and three months in the ICU fighting to survive.

Annie Johnson, a nurse practitioner in critical care, helped develop Mayo Clinic’s ICU Recovery Program.

“He was incredibly sick,” Johnson said.

The program was developed before the pandemic as a way to meet the needs of patients — both body and mind — after discharge.

“Most, if not all patients who have been critically ill with COVID really will need that follow-up care,” Johnson said.

She has been encouraged by a declining death rate.

“With every week that passes, we learn more and more,” she said. “We’re having more people walk out of the doors, which is absolutely always 100% the goal. So stressing the importance of that recovery piece even more.”

Dellinger sites obesity as a factor that ramped up the severity of his symptoms.

“The biggest saving grace I have is I never smoked and I had no underlying conditions,” Dellinger said. “The biggest thing was, you know, like most of us I was a little bit overweight.”

He has been out of the hospital for a month and remains on oxygen. He will hopefully be able to breathe again on his own one day.

“[I’m] very lucky,” he said.

Johnson says COVID patients who have spent time in the ICU need to take it slow and steady for months to come. They also need to be in touch with their primary care providers and watch out for lingering shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue.

Mayo Clinic offers support groups to help patients who have left the ICU. Email for more information.

Here are some resources from Mayo Clinic:

Liz Collin