Since COVID-19 first appeared in the Treasure State back in March of 2020, more than 5,000 Montanans have been hospitalized because of the virus.
Choteau resident and U.S. Army veteran Ron Daley, 57, has spent the last six months in a hospital bed because of how the virus has ravaged his body. What started as a lingering cough would eventually lead to hospitalization, being put on a ventilator and paralysis.
Under the care of the staff at the VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison, Daley has relearned to talk and gain the function of his left arm. He still has significant challenges with his other arm and is unable to walk at this time. He also has some memory difficulties.
Through the difficult recovery, Daley has had a driving force that’s pushed him forward. A reason he says is why he won’t and can’t throw in the towel.
“The encouragement of my family and the end of the tunnel where I can get back to them again,” said Daley. “I won’t stop. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
COVID-19 has taken a lot away from Daley. He was physically strong and active in his community having coached baseball for two decades.
Daley’s room at the VA Medical Center is full of pictures of his family, and he has staff write on a whiteboard his prayers for them each night. His family visits regularly and calls every day, but it’s not the same as being at home with them. He also missed the birth of his first grandchild.
Daley says he’s blessed to have this opportunity for recovery and is so thankful for all of the VA staff and the amazing care he’s received.
“I’m thankful for being alive, for my family and for God placing me in the middle of all [the staff at the Montana VA] because I truly believe there’s no way I’d be at where I’m at right now if it wasn’t for my physical therapist and nurses,” Daley said.
However, many of the VA staff that have worked with him say they’re the lucky ones.
“It’s been such a joy for all of us to get to know him and his family,” said Physical Therapist Megan Williams. “He really represents for us a sense of optimism and hope, and he has honestly just renewed our sense of enthusiasm to be healthcare providers.”
Daley is now at the point where he’s being discharged from the Montana VA Medical Center and will continue his rehabilitation at the Miles City VA Community Living Center. VA staff lined the halls of his floor to see him off and wish him the best.
Despite Daley’s challenges, he is a success story for the frontline medical workers of Montana VA because he’s still here.
The statewide death toll for COVID since the pandemic began is 1,573, according to data compiled by MTN News. The VA reports at least 54 veterans that were enrolled with the Montana VA have passed from complications of COVID.
“There has been a lot of sad COVID cases at the VA and across the world, but seeing someone get really bad COVID and almost die and succeed and make it to the next level and hopefully get back to a normal life is very, very inspiring for all of us,” said Registered Nurse Sam Whitehead.
Whitehead actually knew Daley long before coming to the VA Medical Center. Daley coached him on a Youth All Star Baseball Team over a decade ago.
“We both kind of realized it at the same time when I went in here. He was talking about coaching little league and I was talking about playing and we both had the epiphany at the same time,” recalled Whitehead. “He was like, ‘I kind of remember you,’ and I was like, ‘yeah I was the chubby, mouthy kid,’ and he said, ‘Oh I remember you!’”
Whitehead says Daley was an inspiring coach, but really has knocked it out of the park as a patient and is so impressed by the recovery he’s made.
Going to Miles City may be the most difficult part of his recovery. He’ll be six hours away from his family, meaning trips will be more difficult for them. However, his family is all the motivation he needs to find his way forward and get back home.
“It’s going to be difficult leaving,” said an emotional Daley. “I won’t stop working to get better. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
He also has an army of frontline workers at the Montana VA that are rooting for him.
Daley's illness has been a significant burden on the finances of his family. A Go Fund Mehas been set up to help them out.