An extra Special Valentine's Day for COVID-19 patient Andrew Hisler
February 14 – Valentine's Day – was truly fitting for Andrew Hisler's Happy Discharge Day from the Alfond Center for Health (ACH) in Augusta, as nursing and respiratory care staff gathered to offer a heartfelt and emotional sendoff for the man who was a patient for several months.
Hisler, 61, of Somerville, was admitted to the ACH in November in serious condition after experiencing worsening COVID-19 symptoms for three weeks.
"I came here by ambulance and they admitted me immediately because I was in bad shape," he said as he recalled his long, challenging hospital stay.
While he recovered from the acute infection during the first part of his hospitalization, his diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis – a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred – made it difficult to wean him down to a rate of oxygen that he could go home on. He also needed to regain both his strength and his loss of muscle tone from being weak and inactive for so long.
Hisler offered high praise for the medical care and support he received from clinical and nonclinical staff alike. During his hospital stay, he alternated between intensive care and 1 West, one of the medical-surgical units at the ACH, with most of his time spent on 1 West.
"The people at MaineGeneral will do anything for you and I’ve met some nice people in the hospital," he said. "They were good – they got me right on the oxygen mask and I stayed on it, and I did everything they told me to do, which had a lot to do with my recovery."
"The best place I could have been is right here," he added. "I couldn't have asked for better care. I'll never forget what these people have done for me."
A long-time welder at Cives Steel in Augusta who also raises beef cattle on his farm, Hisler also is greatly appreciative of the friends and family who took care of his animals, farm and home during his nearly three-month hospital stay. They also built a ramp so he could get into his home by wheelchair and rearranged the house for greater accessibility during an expected lengthy recovery period.
"God, willpower, prayer and the support of family and friends – that's what helps," he said. "One of the therapists asked me what my goal was and I told him it was to get out of my wheelchair and walk again in the next three months. I know I'll have to go gradually because my lungs are damaged."
Hisler deeply regrets that he had not received a COVID-19 vaccination before he fell ill. His willingness to share his life-threatening experience with the virus is fueled by a desire to keep others from enduring the same outcome.
"I thought about getting vaccinated. I came into work and a couple other guys got it and now I wish I had," he said. "Not getting vaccinated was a big mistake. For what I've gone through, I don't want to see anyone else do the same. You've never seen anything until you've had this, and you don't want it."
Hisler also has encouraged others to get vaccinated.
"I've had some friends who have already gotten vaccinated and my brother has, too," he said.
As he left 1 West on Feb. 14 for this return home, Hisler received 13 star-shaped balloons - one for each week he was in the hospital – along with many well wishes outside of the unit and along the hallway leading to the main entrance.
He said he looked forward to being reunited with his girlfriend Ann at his farmhouse and spending time with his dachshund Squeaker, while he continues his therapy and recovery at home. Mostly, he's thankful to have the opportunity after his near-death experience.
"Someone told me the other day, 'You're a miracle,'" he said, "and I told him, 'The guy upstairs is the real miracle.'"