By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
SIMCOE/JARVIS—Mike VanNetten, the 45-year-old chicken farmer battling a near-fatal bout with COVID, reached a significant milestone June 1, 2021 as he reunited with his four children for the first time since being hospitalized in early April.
“They had (video chatted) a few times with him, but that was the first time they’ve seen him. It was good for all of them. They needed to see him, and he needed to see them. It’s tough being away,” said Mike’s wife, Sarah. “As Mike improves, your worries lessen a little bit. Now, they can text him and he will respond. That’s a huge thing.… It was good for everyone’s soul.”
The Press first reported on Mike, who lives in Simcoe and previously in Jarvis, on May 5. At that time, he was in critical condition at Hamilton General Hospital and attached to a risky, but life-saving device called an ECMO machine, which was helping to oxygenate his blood. Much has changed since.
“He’s come leaps and bounds,” said Sarah, who has been beside Mike every step of the way.
“His back was basically up against a wall. Nobody ever gave up on him down there, but he had to start making some steps,” explained Sarah. “They needed his lungs to ‘pop’. His lungs were so hard, and they needed them to start taking in some air.”
After some incremental improvements, doctors put Mike on dialysis as a pre-emptive measure in case he experienced kidney problems because of other treatments he was undergoing, including being on the ECMO machine for over two weeks at that point and having a breathing tube installed.
Although he still had a breathing tube attached, Mike’s physio team began the process of helping him move again. At first, simple things like sitting him on the side of the bed were considered a victory.
“On day 41 he stood for the first time,” said Sarah. “Then the next day he was lifting his feet, then the next day a couple little steps. Now he’s up to using a walker with four wheels and every day he goes further and further than he did the day before. He’s determined to beat this and come home. He’s a ray of sunshine up there for them.”
While Mike is improving, Sarah notes that it hasn’t been easy: “It’s exhausting. He is whipped from doing five steps up a stool, and then they want him to sit in his chair for an hour. It sounds so silly, but it is work…. I am so proud of him,” she said. “He’s in the painful portion of this journey. For the first while it was my pain to just watch, but now it’s his pain to carry because they don’t want him on sedation anymore. They want him to be clear minded.”
Mike’s memory is still returning to him, but according to Sarah he remembers being dropped off initially at the Norfolk General Hospital back in April, followed by a foggy haze with flashes from his time when he was generally unconscious: “He remembers being scared. He remembers my love taps,” said Sarah, referring to how she would give him a little tap on the arm for each person that loved him while he was still unconscious early in his treatment.
Although the road ahead is still looming, Sarah can see ahead to a time where Mike is able to transition from the ICU to rehab, and from there, to home: “He’d like to be home. We always go to the cottage in the summer, to Turkey Point. He’d love to go there. I believe it’s possible. If he keeps working, anything is possible. I’ll gladly give up three or four months of my life for years to come.”
She added on the support they’ve received: “Mike has always loved Haldimand and Norfolk. To see the outpouring of support from people we consider friends, and people we don’t know, is overwhelming.”