On Christmas morning, members of Rich Kulovany’s family faced the grim reality that their father might not survive his fight with COVID-19.
“We weren’t ready to say goodbye to him yet,” said Kulovany’s daughter, Jen Kulovaný Ostrum. “That was an absolutely traumatizing thing, mostly because it went from ‘he was sick, but he was fine’ to ‘he was going to die.’ We weren’t prepared.”
Kulovany’s wife Kathleen echoed her daughter’s sentiment.
“It was very hard,” she said. “On Christmas Day, I think we all knew what could happen, but I think we were all in denial, or at least I was.”
Indeed, Kulovany, a Downers Grove commissioner, nearly died from complications of the virus, but four months after his family was told he might lose his fight, he’s battling back from a virus that he described as “insidious.”
“It’s relentless,” Kulovany said of the virus that has taken the lives of 573,000 Americans.
“It comes in very much like waves, and when you’re at a low point you think you’re out of the woods that’s when it comes in and slams you against the rocks,” said Kulovany, who has spent time in a hospital, specialty hospital and a rehabilitation facility.
“There is so many ups and downs with this,” he said. “It’s very much you take one step forward and two steps backwards.”
Kulovany described his experience with the virus as “relentless” and added that he continues to experience muscle weakness, coughing and a burning sensation in his feet.
“It’s a very slow process because I’m going to physical therapy still,” Kulovany added.
Kulovany’s daughter has set up an online fundraising page in an effort to help pay for her father’s medical bills. To donate to the campaign, visit https://bit.ly/3xFdWVp.
Kulovany Ostrum said she started raising money to help her mother feel at ease because her father hasn’t been able to work. The family has raised more than $21,000, to date. The goal is $25,000.
Kulovany was preparing for a routine colonoscopy in early December only to find a positive result to a rapid COVID-19 test. Around that time, he thought he was developing a sinus infection.
“That week was a rough week,” Kulovany said. “My fever was 103.7. I had very serious fatigue.”
A short time later, Kulovany started feeling better only for things to quickly take a turn for the worse. He visited the emergency room at Good Samaritan Hospital on Dec. 11 where he would later be admitted. By Christmas Eve, he was starting to feel better again, but that feeling didn’t last long. Instead, his health rapidly declined.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it at that point,” he said. “I’m a man of faith, so I said a prayer.”
Kulovany recalled the moment on Christmas morning when he called Kathleen, informing her of the medical team’s decision to place him on the critical list.
“They sedated me, intubated me, put me on a ventilator,” he said, adding that he was in a medically-induced coma from Christmas Day until Jan. 9.
Kulovany said his medical team didn’t expect him to make it.
“The doctor told my wife that I was knocking on heaven’s door,” Kulovany said via phone during a March village council meeting, the first one in which he participated since contracting the virus.
Kulovany’s daughter reflected on the despair her family faced at the height of her father’s battle with COVID-19.
“His lungs were filled with COVID-pneumonia and he was absolutely exhausted,” Kulovany Ostrum wrote in a social media post. “Despite the best efforts of his care providers, his health continued to decline, and we received the call on Christmas morning that he was placed on a ventilator. That day our family had an extremely emotional Zoom call with him, though he was not conscious. We all thought we might be saying goodbye, and we begged him through our tears to please stay with us because we weren’t ready to lose him.
“Over the weeks that followed we vacillated between hope and despair. We knew our dad was a fighter and he wasn’t going to give up easily, and that hundreds of you have been praying and sending good thoughts. But this virus is such an unknown enemy, we couldn’t be sure that he’d come back to us.”
Kathleen Kulovany said it brings great meaning to her knowing how she and her family pulled together to support her husband.
Upon coming out of the coma, Kulovany depended on a ventilator to breathe. He also struggled to communicate and digest solid food.
“I learned to read lips over FaceTime when I’d FaceTime him,” Kathleen Kulovany said.
Things have improved for Kulovany since early December, but the road back wasn’t easy.
On Jan. 20, Kulovany was transferred to a specialty hospital where he was taken off the ventilator and started physical therapy.
“I lost 30 pounds while I was in the hospital, and my muscles have atrophied,” he said.
As a result, he’s had to teach himself how to stand up and walk again. He also spent time at a rehabilitation facility before returning home where he continues his recovery.
“That was an acute rehab program where they do a combination of three hours of occupational and physical therapies everyday,” he said.
It remains unclear how Kulovany caught the virus, though has a theory.
“I’m fairly certain I know who gave this to me,” Kulovany said during his remarks at his first village council meeting in March.
He recalled a customer at the store where he works presenting him with a card that said he had a medical excuse not to wear a mask.
“So I tried to take care of him the best I could and I was with him a pretty lengthy period of time and it turned out he kept getting closer and closer to me so he could see the computer,” Kulovany recalled. “So, that was the only person who came within six feet for over five minutes of time.
So, I’m sure that person felt he or she was exercising their personal rights. When I went to urgent care and told them the situation, the doctor said other than some psychological reasons, there’s no medical reason not to wear a mask. So if that person would have been more thoughtful, just a little more thoughtful of others, it wouldn’t have put me in the hospital. ... I was doing what I was supposed to do. I guess I got caught up in my work to help the guy out and paid the price for it.”
Kulovany’s daughter said the whole ordeal doesn’t add up, describing her father as “one of the healthiest people I know.”
“The man exercises every day,” she said. “He takes a ridiculous number of vitamins and supplements to stay healthy. He’s incredibly healthy. Out of all of us, he is one person I would have thought would not get that sick at all, if he got it. We almost lost him because of it.”
Kulovany added that he took all the necessary precautions before getting sick.
“I was really intentional on wearing masks, social distancing, washing my hands and keeping up with all those precautions,” he said. “I knew the disease was real. I knew it was hitting people in various ways.”
Unfortunately, Kulovany wasn’t the only member of his family to come down with the virus. His daughter also had a case that required hospitalization and other family members had mild cases of the virus.
Kulovany attended Downers Grove Village Council meeting in person April 13 and relished the opportunity to see his fellow council members.
“It was really nice for the fact that I hadn’t seen them since December,” he said.
Finally, Kulovany has a message for people questioning the virus and the impact it can have.
“The disease is serious,” he said. “It’s insidious. It doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not. It can hit you really hard. It can have some long-term effects.”