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COVID-19 and the life after: Columbia Heights man continues recovery from home

Duane Pfarr returned home on Christmas Eve after spending weeks at the hospital. His therapy at home continues.

COLUMBIA HEIGHTS, Minn. — Twenty or so degrees makes for a nice February day in Minnesota, but it's not quite what some would call construction season.

"We normally build seven ramps a year, April through October," Armand Peterson said. "This one came up with a special need, asked if we could do it, took a look and said we certainly could."

Peterson is leading a group of Honeywell retirees who are bundled up and passionate about building ramps for those who need it. Together, they're working as Rebuilding Together Twin Cities and on Tuesday morning, they gathered at Duane Pfarr's home to fashion a ramp.

"It will be accessible with his little go cart thing, and swing around to the front when the weather is better," Duane's wife Mary Jo Pfarr said. "So there will be times he will be able to walk up with the walker, because it will hold anything and that's a great thing."

The ramp is one of the many gestures of kindness the Pfarr family has received from the community. This includes their church at St. Bridge's as well as the Northside Minneapolis Knights of Columbus. 

That generosity has been the thing that's kept Duane going strong since his return home from the hospital on Christmas Eve. He spent months at the hospital at first fighting COVID-19, and then going through rehabilitation.

RELATED: Man returns home from hospital after months-long battle with COVID-19

A little more than a month of being at home, Duane reported his progress.

"I'm moving along. Therapy has been done now, and now I've got to do them on my own," he said, his voice much stronger than he sounded on Christmas Eve.

Behind Duane's recovery was a whole team of doctors, nurses and therapists. Fairview Acute Rehab physical therapist Maura Kelly was one of many on his team.

"He came to our unit because he was done with that acute medical side, he was still experiencing significant physical impairments that prevented him from going home safely," Kelly explained. 

Kelly said medical professionals are still learning daily about the nuances of the disease, especially when it comes to the aftermath.

However, one thing's for sure, there's growing demand for acute rehab physical therapy for patients who have survived COVID-19.

RELATED: COVID survivor shares his experience with long-term recovery

"In 2020, our floor cared for a 125 patients, post-COVID," Kelly said. "What that translates to in terms of numbers is 15 to 20% were all post-COVID. that's significant because the year before it was 0%."

She continued:

"We're seeing a huge increase in the number of patients coming to our floor for that specific diagnosis," Kelly said. "Such that we increased the size of our unit from 30 beds to 36 beds, in order to accommodate the surge." 

Not everyone battles severe long-term consequences after their fight with COVID-19, but Kelly said the importance lies in prevention because the outcomes are so varied.

"We don't have that information to figure out what person is more apt to have these significant physical and functional deficits after their COVID," she added. "But we can expect to be dealing with the outcome of the disease for a very long time."

M Health Fairview said they started a new clinic specifically dedicated to post-COVID patients on December 16th. A spokesperson added that as of Tuesday, they have seen 81 patients there.

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