'I had to learn to breathe again': Local man, once near death from COVID-19, recounts his recovery

Kezia Setyawan
The Courier

On what seemed like an ordinary day in September, 61-year-old Don Boudreaux was getting a routine checkup with his heart specialist.

At the same time, his wife, Trudy, was home, not feeling well. Before Don’s appointment was completed, he received a call that Trudy was at the Terrebonne General Medical Center emergency department, where she tested positive for COVID-19. Once treated and stable, Trudy was released to go home and monitor her symptoms.

Soon after, Don Boudreaux tested positive as well.

“I was getting briefings at work how bad COVID could be," he said. "I had friends and relatives laughing it off, people saying, ‘Oh, only 0.1% die,’ or whatever they were saying, and then I got it.”

Boudreaux said he had been taking the precautions that have become part of daily life during the coronavirus the pandemic.

“I took it seriously," Boudreaux said. "I was sent to work from home on March 13 of last year. I stayed home, I didn’t go out at all, the only time I went out was to eat supper on Fridays at the restaurants. I felt confident with my mask wearing, staying at home, no contact with anyone, handwashing, doing everything right, and that sucker came and got me anyway.”

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Over the next several days, the couple tried their best to manage their symptoms at home, but Don got worse and was rushed by ambulance to TGMC. There, he was admitted into the critical care unit. State-imposed restrictions on hospital visits prohibited Trudy from staying by her husband’s side, and she relied on the medical team for updates on her husband’s condition.

It was not good.

Trudy and Don Boudreaux of Houma were able to celebrate their wedding anniversary Tuesday at home as he continues to recover from a life-threatening case of COVID-19.

'He will need a miracle'

Dr. Navin Durairajan, the pulmonary disease specialist and lead physician on Boudreaux’s case, said he was in respiratory failure and placed on 100% ventilation support.

Durairajan told Trudy to prepare for the worst.

“Your husband might not make it through the night, and he will need a miracle,” he said.

Boudreaux did make it through the night and spent the next 22 days on a ventilator.

“I had no concept of time or realizing that the days were passing,” Boudreaux said. “The time I was in the CCU, I wasn’t aware of when I became aware, and I was not sure if I was conscious for two days or half a day. But the voices of my nurses were like angels, each day coming to make sure I was doing OK."

"They helped me live.”

'He was coming home'

Trudy was able to recover from her milder case of COVID-19 and remained in constant communication with the medical team about her husband's progress.

“It was a very slow process. It was the scariest time in my life,” she said. “But he was coming home, though. I was positive about that.”

Frequent FaceTime calls and the support of his family gave Boudreaux the strength to focus on his recovery, he said.

“It calmed me down a lot and I was able to see that that Trudy was at home with the family," Boudreaux said. "It helped me concentrate on getting out of the CCU as soon as possible. I was able to, due to the good people at Terrebonne General. The CCU staff that took care of me were awesome. I’ll never be able to thank them enough.”

Several weeks after he was hospitalized, Trudy was finally able to visit with him every day. Boudreaux transitioned from being on a ventilator full-time to being discharged from the hospital to an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

“Throughout Mr. Boudreaux’s extensive stay here at TGMC his care team constantly monitored his vitals and continually worked together to modify his treatment plan to ensure the best outcome," Durairajan said. "They helped him recover.”

Road to recovery

Five months after being hospitalized, Boudreaux continues his recovery.

“I had to learn to breathe again and I had to learn how to walk again," he said. "Once I got all that down and I was able to start up my critical thinking again. I’m probably at 85% to where I was before. But I’m confident I’ll keep on improving, and I’ll be the same old me I was before."

Boudreaux is also no longer dependent on an oxygen tank, which doctors had initially suggested he might have to use in the long-term.

“I can’t describe how confident I am," he said. "I had doctors and therapists telling me it was going to be a long haul, I would be on oxygen for the rest of my life, and I was determined that wouldn’t happen. And so [I] concentrated on my breathing exercises, concentrated on getting my blood oxygen levels on my own without the use of the equipment. I was so happy to not have my little tank. I called it my 'R2 unit' walking behind me, and I was able to go to places by myself.”

Boudreaux is back at work now, where he is a supervisor for Child Support Enforcement for the state Department of Children and Family Services. Trudy is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and Don will receive his second dose later this month.

Most importantly, Don and Trudy are grateful they were able to celebrate their wedding anniversary Tuesday at home. And they are happy they got to meet a couple of weeks ago with all four of their grandchildren in the same place at the same time, a first for the family.

“The youngest was a month old when I went to the hospital, and my other three live in Oklahoma, so after I went back home they were able to come back down,” Don Boudreaux said. “I’m so thankful to have a visit from my grandchildren and have crawfish boils with them and my kids.”