‘Miracle Brand’; Arkansas man shares his 15-month battle with COVID-19, complications
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – In two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 6,000,000 people worldwide.
Marc Schlesinger should were part of this statistic. After being diagnosed with the virus at the height of the pandemic, the odds were stacked against him. The 62-year-old’s fight against the virus and his survival is nothing short of a miracle.
A year and a half ago, Schlesinger had a totally different life. However, a lot can change in this time frame.
“I played golf. I was not overweight. I exercised every day,” he said. “I was in perfect health.”
In October 2020, Schlesinger, struggling to breathe and battling a high fever, checked himself into the emergency room at Chi St. Vincent in Little Rock.
The 62-year-old was diagnosed with COVID-19 and immediately put on a ventilator. What followed was a fight to survive, an uphill battle Schlesinger barely remembers.
“Once I got to the hospital, I was away for a long time,” he said.
Schlesinger spent the next 15 months in a hospital bed, including a year in intensive care. He was in a coma for two and a half weeks and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. In total, he underwent 16 chest surgeries.
“They kept telling my brother and sister that I wasn’t going to make it,” he said.
Schlesinger was airlifted to UT Southwestern in Dallas and put on the highest life support level. For nearly five months, he was hooked up to ECMO, a last resort for patients with COVID-19. Doctors said there was little chance he would survive.
“They said that even if he succeeded, he would be paraplegic,” Schlesinger recalled.
He coded six times, and each time he was brought back to life, a team of doctors and nurses were by his side. One of them, he says, never left.
“I used to read the letters people sent her and show her pictures,” RN Loren Lehtonen said. “He may not remember it in detail, but subconsciously I knew it was going to really help him.”
Lehtonen said she and Schlesinger formed a bond while he was in the hospital. She said he reminded her of her own father.
“She would bring me a picture of Sophie (my daughter) every day and say, ‘Mark, this is what you live for. You can’t give up,’ Schlesinger said. my head, ‘You can’t give up. Do not abandon.
What Schlesinger desperately needed was a lung transplant, and in August 2021 his prayers were answered when he was finally able to have surgery.
“Dallas doctors told me no one had gone through all the things you did and survived,” he recalled.
After a few months of physical therapy in Dallas, Schlesinger returned home to Little Rock in February 2022.
“So many people will call me ‘Miracle Mark’ because it was a total miracle,” he said of his ordeal. “I mean there was a one in a million chance that I would make it.”
It’s a walking miracle, literally, with the help of a walker. Even though he is recovering, Schlesinger is struggling to stay put these days.
“I go to therapy every day and do exercises because my goal is to walk on my own, hopefully by spring. Late spring or early summer,” he said.
He is also busy making up for lost time.
“It looks like I go to dinner every night with different people,” he said.
He even went back to work part-time.
“I came back to live,” Schlesinger said. “I didn’t come back to just lay at home and do nothing.”
It is an inner strength that he says he discovered in the hospital.
“I never intended to give up. I had to tell myself that I was determined and that I was going to make it,” Schlesinger said.
A strength that shines through to all those around him
“He said he had one thing on his mind and that was to reunite with his family and his daughter,” Lehtonen said.
Schlesinger said that by early summer he hopes to be back on the golf course. For now, he’s busy driving the cart around the green saying hello to old friends.
Vaccines weren’t ready when he fell ill, but Schlesinger said he was now vaccinated and strengthened and encouraged his friends to do the same.
As for Lehtonen, she said she invited Schlesinger to her wedding later that year and was saving him a dance.