Rick Sterzer’s Story: The Fight of His Life

Retired Winnipeg firefighter Rick Sterzer spent nearly five weeks at St. Boniface Hospital as a COVID-19 patient.

Though a first responder himself, Sterzer said his hospital stay has taken his appreciation for front-line staff to a new level.

“Being a patient opened my eyes to see what kind of person you have to be in these roles. The compassion they have is something you cannot teach.”

“I will never see them again in the same way.”

Sterzer came to St. Boniface Hospital’s Emergency Department on the evening of April 2. He was unable to stand on his own, struggling to breathe and running a fever of 42.5 C (108.5 F). His wife Shannon had to answer questions from attending staff on his behalf.

Weeks earlier, the Sterzers had returned from a European cruise cut short as COVID-19 spread across the world. While on the ship, Sterzer became ill. His symptoms worsened while he self-isolated at home. After he first tested negative, a second test confirmed he had the COVID-19 virus.

Within 48 hours of admission at St. Boniface, Sterzer was moved from a regular ward for COVID-19 patients to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). For the next 18 days, he relied on a high-flow oxygen distributor and other equipment to help him breathe and get better. His caregivers made a great difference in his outlook.

“The ICU staff kept me going, kept my hopes up. When I started to get a little ahead of myself, thinking about what might happen, a wonderful nurse said ‘Whoa, we’re not going there.’”

Sterzer first spoke to us by video chat, soon after his condition had improved enough for him to move from the ICU back to the regular COVID-19 ward. Reflecting on the severity of his infection, he was soon back in the ICU for another three days before his oxygen level was once again satisfactory. (“It’s an ebb and flow,” he said.)

He said there was no better testament than his story to demonstrate the need for Manitobans to keep supporting St. Boniface Hospital.

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