FINDLEY TOWNSHIP – When Adam Nowland fought COVID-19 in late March and early April, he was by himself.
The pandemic was at its height, so he wasn’t allowed visitors, not even Katie Nowland, his wife of 12 years.
“It was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to go through,” she said.
But Adam wasn’t alone. He had plenty of support in spirit, if not in person.
He still doesn’t remember much of the experience, like the three days he spent connected to a ventilator.
Now that the Findley Township man has recovered, he does remember struggling to breathe and the fear that he may have unknowingly passed the virus on to someone older than him with pre-existing health conditions — someone who might have a harder time recovering.
“It is a horrible, horrible feeling,” he said.
Adam, director of planned giving at Grove City College, said he was in good health when he came back from a business trip to Florida in early March, just before the entire country shut down due to the virus.
At that point, the Nowlands hadn’t heard much about the coronavirus, but they were keeping their eye on news reports following his return home.
Adam had heard some Transportation Security Administration agents, from the same Orlando and Pittsburgh airports that he had passed through on business, had tested positive for the virus. He developed a cough around March 16, but thought it was a cold.
His health went downhill in “a matter of days,” with congestion, a fever, exhaustion, a loss of taste and smell, and difficulty breathing — all now included as symptoms of COVID-19.
In a virtual doctor’s visit March 21, a physician expressed concerns, based on Adam’s symptoms and recent travel, and an steady increase of cases at that time. But he still held out hope that it wasn’t the coronavirus.
“I was hoping it was something different,” he said.
Adam went to AHN Grove City on March 23, and he tested positive for the flu. He said he felt relieved it didn’t appear to be COVID-19.
But his condition continued to worsen for the next few days.
He felt “miserable” and had trouble sleeping and breathing, and Katie contacted the doctor again.
“It’s a good thing we did,” Nowland said.
The doctor ordered another trip to the hospital.
AHN Grove City admitted Adam on March 26 and moved him to an isolation room, where he received treatment for pneumonia in both lungs. They also tested him again for COVID-19.
Two days later, he awakened, at 3:30 a.m., to the news that his test came back positive.
He called his wife, who was stuck at home because the hospital didn’t allow visitors.
“I was helpless,” she said of how she felt.
Katie notified their family while Adam wondered if he could have given the virus to someone else before he knew he had it. He was particularly worried about his wife, who had to quarantine at home for two weeks because of his positive test result.
“It was stressful,” he said.
Adam was transferred to UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit.
He was treated with antibiotics for the pneumonia, and took hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19, along with oxygen.
He had no appetite and lost about 10 pounds during the 10 days he was hospitalized.
He recalled watching a virtual service from his church, Grove City Alliance Church, then being told that he needed a ventilator to help with his breathing, which he said was painful.
Adam said he was a little nervous, and he called his wife, who spoke to his medical team.
He was sedated while on the ventilator. He was awake a few times during those three days, and communicated with his wife and other family members through video chats and pen and paper.
Adam said he remembered very little from his three days on ventilator, aside from having his arms strapped down most of the time so he wouldn’t pull on his medical equipment.
The ventilator, which assisted Adam with breathing, gave his lungs a much-needed rest. He said the hospital staff told him that he was their first COVID-19 patient who came off the ventilator.
The doctors told him he was very lucky.
“I know there were a lot of people praying for me ... It was God’s grace that helped me get through this,” he said.
On April 2, Adam was moved from intensive care to a COVID-19 isolation unit. He went home on April 4, right before his 35th birthday.
“I was really excited to get out of there,” he said.
Adam was very weak at first, and his cough lingered for a few weeks. He said the recovery has been slow, but he is starting to feel something like his old self.
He still treats his condition as “high risk” and said there’s a chance he’ll have some permanent lung damage. Katie has been caring for him and he is working remotely from home again.
Adam is staying active with projects around the house, and returning to physical shape through swimming and light exercising.
The Nowlands thanked everyone who provided love and support — with meals, groceries and lots of prayers — during his recovery. They said their families, friends, co-workers and church family helped them get through a very difficult time.
“It was so touching to see that people went out of their way,” Katie said.
They said the experience has been a humbling one and they hope people will remember Adam’s battle to recover as the pandemic continues.
Wearing face coverings and social distancing in public is a minor “common courtesy” that goes a long way toward helping flatten the curve, they said.
“You also have to care for others ... We’re all in this together,” Adam said.
Adam said he realizes that nobody enjoys wearing a mask, but he feels it’s his responsibility to help protect others from possible exposure.
He believes that the medical professionals and scientists are doing the best they can, and said that it was unfortunate that prevention measures have become political for some people.
Adam said he thinks the situation will get more complicated as schools reopen, and people should listen to what the experts.
NOTE: This story has been edited to indicate Adam Nowland's correct title at Grove City College.