Harve Disner started feeling sick on Sunday, March 22, as the virus was beginning to spike in Michigan.
If statistics were predictive, Harve Disner would not be here to tell his tale of recovery from COVID-19.
Harve (pronounced “Harvey”) had more than one or two pre-existing conditions that could have made him likely to succumb to the dreaded disease. He was 77 years old and overweight. He’s diabetic. He’d had a triple heart bypass surgery in 2016.
But Harve is back at his Commerce Township home after a grueling seven months in hospitals and rehab facilities.
“He’s the guy who by all means should not have made it through,” said his wife, Judy, who recovered from a very mild case of COVID that started at around the same time.
Harve started feeling sick on Sunday, March 22, as the virus was beginning to spike in Michigan. It was just a cough, which subsided a bit a day later, and a fever that was controlled with Tylenol. But by the following Friday, he was very weak and starting to have breathing problems. His wife called 911, and an ambulance took him to Huron Valley Sinai Hospital in Commerce.
“They immediately assumed it was COVID-19, though it took about 10 days to confirm,” said Judy.
On April 4, Harve was put on a ventilator, which helped him breathe for seven weeks. A few weeks later, he had a tracheotomy, so a breathing tube could be inserted in his throat. Harve was in a coma for much of the first months of his ordeal and, when he was partially aware, he had hallucinations. He doesn’t remember anything about those weeks.
At the end of May, he was moved to Select Specialty, a unit within St. Joseph Hospital in Pontiac that specializes in weaning people from respirators.
Harve battled for two months alone. In early June, Judy was finally able to be at his side.
“June 20 was his first day off the vent, and on July 21 they removed the trach tube,” said Judy.
On July 30, Harve was moved to a rehabilitation facility.
“He lasted 90 minutes,” said Judy. “They sent him back to Huron Valley Sinai.”
Two days later, he suffered a cardiac arrest; six minutes of CPR got his heart beating again, but he went back on a ventilator for six days.
“Through all this, he had several episodes of pneumonia and double pneumonia, one infection after another,” said Judy.
After he regained consciousness, Harve told his wife several times that he just wanted to die. Before she’d leave him at the end of the day, she’d ask if he really meant it. And he’d say, “Nope, I’m not ready to die yet.”
“My wife never missed a day at the hospital or rehab facility,” said Harve. “She stayed as long as they let her every day — and sometimes more.”
This was not Harve’s first brush with adversity. His first wife, Susie, was killed by her brother, who had mental health problems, in 2000. Harve and Judy married in 2006.
The Disners had hoped to celebrate their anniversary Sept. 4 by enjoying dinner together, but the rehab facility would not permit it. So, Judy brought flowers and set up a folding table outside Harve’s window, where she ate her meal while he ate his in his room.
Finally, on Oct. 22, Harve was able to come home. Neighbors welcomed him with a colorful chalk drawing on his driveway.
An aide is with him eight hours a day, to help with activities of daily living, and physical and occupational therapists and nurses make frequent visits.
He still tires easily and needs a walker to move about, but he’s working hard to be able to walk on his own.
Though he is still very weak, Harve is once again managing his one-man business, Detroit Auto Brokers, by phone from home rather than from his Southfield office. But he’s cutting back on the number of hours he works, one of many lifestyle changes he’s made.
He says he is determined to be healthier. “I have been given a huge gift of life,” he said. “I want to make good use of it.”