Putting a name and face to COVID: Mark Stier’s story

Published in Wellness

On Thursday, October 28th, 53-year-old Mark Stier of Willmar was in North Dakota hunting with his buddy. They were enjoying the unseasonably warm temperatures for fowl hunting that weekend and looking forward to the deer opener the following weekend. That’s when Mark first started noticing the headache, the body aches, and the sheer exhaustion he felt after a morning of hunting. He knew something wasn’t right. Could it be COVID?

After the past 3 years as a Social Emotional Learner at ACGC Elementary School, Mark was looking forward to starting his new position on Monday as the Dean of Students at ACGC Junior/Senior High School. Unfortunately, he never made it…because he was right. It was COVID-19.

Here’s Mark’s story, in his own words.

When did you get tested for COVID?

Monday, November 2nd, the same day I was supposed to start my new position at ACGC Schools.

Where did you go for the test?

After first registering for an appointment online, I went to the curbside testing clinic outside the old Willmar Surgery Center at Carris Health - Willmar Clinic. I was able to drive up and get the nasal swab without even leaving my car. Everything went smoothly and I was back home very shortly.

How long did it take to get your test results?

I found out I was positive after three days. In the meantime, I stayed quarantined at home.

Did others in your family also get tested? Did they test positive?

The only other family member in contact with me prior to developing symptoms was my wife, Lynn. We quarantined together for 14 days and lived on separate floors of our home so we would have minimal contact. She remained asymptomatic throughout the quarantine period, so there was no need for her to get a test.

Do you think you know where you caught the virus from? Were you surprised?

I’m not sure where I caught it. I was very surprised I got it because I always wear a mask, I take extra precautions at school (wearing goggles even though they’re not required), and I hand sanitize 25+ times/day.

Did your symptoms get worse? How were you feeling by this time?

I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, as my symptoms seemed to come on so suddenly. I got worse as the week went on, and by day nine I started having difficulty breathing. That’s when I really began to get scared and concerned. My wife called the nurse line at the clinic and we were told to come into the Urgent Care/Acute Respiratory Clinic. I ended up with bilateral pneumonia with oxygen levels in the high 80s and low 90s (they’re supposed to be at least 95%). Initially, they had debated on sending me to the hospital, but instead, I was given a steroid via IV at the clinic, then sent home with a steroid medication, nebulizer treatment, and an oximeter to monitor my oxygen levels. We kept a close eye on the oximeter over the next few days and were told to go to the ER if my oxygen levels got below 90 and/or my symptoms got worse. At one point, my low oxygen levels almost landed me in the hospital, but we were able to take care of things at home with the neb treatments and medication, as well as a lot of rest.

You mentioned you almost had to go to the hospital at one point. How did you decide whether to stay home or go to the ER?

With my pneumonia and low oxygen levels, that was what almost put me in the hospital. Thank goodness for the oximeter. We checked my levels often, and if it dipped below 91, we would wait a little while, do a neb treatment, then wait to see if it went back up. I was also making follow-up phone calls to the acute respiratory nurse and sharing my symptoms to determine the best regimen. She was super helpful and even asked to speak to my wife twice, just to be sure she understood my symptoms and oxygen stats correctly.

Did any staff stand out to you?

The Acute Respiratory Clinic physician…Dr. Javaherian. He was very thorough, honest and direct. He also was great about consulting with my primary physician, Dr. VanBeek. Between the two of them, they were doing everything they could to keep me out of the hospital and get the best at-home treatment. The rest of the staff at the Acute Respiratory Clinic were also helpful, letting me know about any time delays/constraints, and even offering my wife a more comfortable place to wait other than our treatment room.

What made your experience with COVID different from a cold or the flu?

I have never felt like this in my life – so sick, and so scared because of the shortness of breath. It’s really frightening not being able to get a full breath. I’m also concerned about any long-term effects of the virus. So much is still unknown.

Do you have other medical issues that might have put you at higher risk?

I consider myself generally healthy, overall. I take medication for blood pressure and cholesterol, but there’s nothing that would have put me at higher risk for developing more serious symptoms.

How long were you out of commission/not feeling well?

I was sick for close to two weeks and am just now starting to feel better. I’m slowly gaining more strength, but still not close to 100%. I also feel like I have lost muscle while laying around for the two weeks. My symptoms were major fatigue, shortness of breath, fever, body sweats, headache, chills, brain fog, and weight loss of 20 pounds in one week.

Did you ever think this would happen to you?

No, I was so careful at school, wearing both a mask and goggles. We always wear a mask when in public and haven’t been out to eat in the last several weeks. Being around kids, I figured I might get it, but not to the extreme that I did. I was very scared.

What do you want to tell others?

This isn’t a laughing matter. When you can’t breathe and get a full breath, your brain starts to go elsewhere, and it scares a person. As a former athlete, I’m worried I won’t ever get back to 100% strength. I hope I’m wrong. My ribs still hurt. I am taking one day at a time, which I need to do, and hoping to feel normal by next spring. I still see stars sometimes when I’m walking, and I get winded whenever I exert myself at all (like carrying boxes, cutting up deer meat, or walking up and down the stairs).

Mark and his wife Lynn, before he was struck with COVID-19.

Anything else you want to share?

I don’t wish this on anyone. Before I got COVID, I felt like I was a fit 53-year-old, but this just knocked me out. I feel like I lost three weeks of my life. Please mask and follow the guidelines of our healthcare system.