SALT LAKE CITY — Everyone has dealt with a lot of change and plenty of inconveniences during this pandemic. But thousands have suffered directly from this deadly virus. One Utah man who is now recovering from COVID-19 says taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself is worth it.
You know him as the burly, tough man from a BYUtv original series, who takes his motorcycle across the country telling the nation's story.
"I'm Stan Ellsworth. This ain't your high school history class, this is American Ride," he said at the beginning of each show.
But today we're telling his story.
"I thought, I'll never catch this. You know, I'm big and tough and strong," Ellsworth said. "I can handle anything!"
And yet, even 61-year-old Stan Ellsworth wasn't immune to COVID-19.
Stan’s wife, Stacey Ellsworth, works in an assisted memory care facility where there was a COVID-19 outbreak. Stacey soon contracted the virus herself, but didn’t experience very severe symptoms.
Stan was determined to take care of his wife, but eventually he started feeling ill too.
"And then I started having trouble breathing," he said.
Stacey took him to the hospital. "The breathing was getting worse like by the minute," she explained.
She thought she'd be back in a couple hours to pick him up, but instead, "He blew me a kiss and then I didn't see him for 26 days," she described.
Doctors put Stan Ellsworth on a ventilator that night and told his wife things weren’t looking good.
"You better prepare yourself because this could go either way. He's really, really sick," Stacey Ellsworth said. "I was just a wreck, I was falling apart."
Since Stacey was still in isolation from the having the virus herself, she was alone. "Nobody could come over and comfort me. They couldn't give me a hug and say, ‘It's all gonna be OK,’" she said.
"You know, all the things we've been watching on the news were happening to my family. It was hitting way too close to home," she added.
Stan had pneumonia in both lungs. With no visitors allowed in the hospital, he was also alone. Stacey begged the nurses to pass along messages to him: "Could you just tell him I love him, could you tell him that we're all praying for him?"
He relied on a picture of him and Stacey at a Stadium of Fire Journey concert for motivation.
"I'd look up at that picture and I'd see Stacey," and think, "Right now I just got to fight to get home to her, so that picture was really something magical to me."
Sadly, Stan's mother died while he was at the hospital in a coma. He believes she was with him in spirit when no one else could physically be there because of the visitor restriction policy.
More Your Life Your Health:
"My mom knew it and she showed up," he said. "That's what moms do."
He said he was encouraged by the message she passed on: "You're in a tough spot right now. But you are made for tough spots. This is your thing. So you fight."
Stan said that experience and the prayers of friends and family and his wonderful nurses got him through it.
After spending a total of 46 days in the hospital, the former football player was finally discharged on June 27.
"I beat it, but not without a lot of help," Stan said.
The Ellsworths say it was a miracle.
But it hasn't been easy.
"It's like he had to relearn how to do everything again," Stacey said.
"This beats you down. This disease is no joke," Stan Ellsworth added. ""It ate me alive, chewed me up and spit me out half way dead."
Intensive care unit Dr. Peter Crossno of Intermountain Healthcare says recovery is a long road.
"They're looking at months, if not years of recovery," he described.
Stan went through occupational, physical and speech therapy.
"You get through the treatment, but you're left with the weakness in the muscles, the cognitive challenges, people have to learn how to swallow again, sometimes," he explained.
Crossno said a traumatic experience like this can also impact someone's emotional and mental health.
"It's really life changing for people," Crossno said.
For Stan Ellsworth, the challenge was in realizing he had changed. "You know, the emotional hit is I'm not who I was," he said. "It's a difficult realization."
Stan Ellsworth will be on oxygen for the next four to six months. He urges people to take precautions seriously.
"Wearing a mask, I think is a wise choice," he said.
Today, Stan and Stacey Ellsworth say they now live for the simple things in life like their children, their grandchildren and each other.
"I am so grateful for him every day of my life," Stacey Ellsworth said.