FORT THOMAS, Ky. — In May 2020, Rick Henline started a fever he couldn’t shake.
“He was doing relatively well, and then all of a sudden the fever got higher. That’s when I thought, okay, something is going on," his wife, Teda, told WCPO.
“He said, 'I just feel like I’ve been beat up.'”
Rick’s fever soon grew worse, and he woke up wheezing in the early morning of May 27.
The two rushed to Christ Hospital, where doctors placed Rick into the COVID-19 intensive care unit. Hours later, he was placed on a ventilator.
"A nurse came out and got him, wheeled him back -- and that was the last time I saw him for 53 days,” Teda said.
After spending a total of 297 days hospitalized and recovering from COVID, 67-year-old Fort Thomas native Rick Henline has finally returned home and is regaining strength in his limbs. His is one of the longest coronavirus-related hospital stays in the country.
Teda couldn't visit with Rick while he was in the ICU, so she stayed connected via FaceTime and in phone calls with the people treating him.
"You just literally have to say, ‘Okay. I can't fight this.’ And you put all your trust for the voice on the phone,” Teda said. “For 53 days, I had my trust in voices on the phone.”
Weeks stretched into months as Rick recovered. He was on paralytic drugs for the first 26 days in the hospital before he was ultimately weened off them and was taken off the ventilator. In late July, he moved to Select Health at Good Samaritan before ending up at Highlandspring of Fort Thomas Healthcare Center and Rehab.
“When he left Christ Hospital,... he had minor movement in his fingers. Very minor," Teda said.
“Everyone is like, 'we just don’t see it this often.' All I say is… It’s COVID.”
Fourth of July, Halloween, Teda's birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas all came and went as Rick recovered. The pair spent their 30th wedding anniversary inside Highlandspring, with health care professionals holding Rick up as they danced and shared an anniversary moment they'll undoubtedly never forget.
Rick recalled what one nurse said to him: “Man, you really went through a lot."
“I said no. She went through a lot,” he said.
Teda said at one point she had made funeral arrangements, preparing for the worst but never doubting that Rick would recover.
“Way back in my mind, I just didn’t think he was going to die. A little German in him, a little stubborn,” she said.
Rick got by thanks to a community that supported him with prayers, cards, phone calls and more.
“It’s hard to disappoint the people who have shown you so much love and concern. I couldn’t do it. That’s what kept me alive," he said.
But most of all, Rick thanked the health care workers who treated him, including his physical therapists, Lisa and Rose.
"They're the heroes, the health professionals,” he said. “They go into where COVID is active, and they help get those people through to return to their family."
On Friday, March 19 -- nearly 10 months after he first arrived at Christ Hospital -- the nurse who admitted him was able to see his send-off at Highlandspring, all by happenstance.
"I said, ‘Why are you here?’ She said, ‘I'm just dropping off my grandmother's laundry,’" remembered Teda.
"Standing there, waiting with kazoos and stuff. I walked around this corner -- I walked into this cacophony of sound, and everyone saying goodbye," Rick said.
For his first meal at home, Rick dined on salmon and sipped sparkling wine -- the first drink he's had in 10 months: "It tasted good!"
His legs are getting stronger as he uses his reciprocal bike for hours a day, but he's still battling to get strength back in his arms.
“I made a promise that I’d dance with a friend at some point," he said. "I’m waiting for someone to tell me that I can’t do it. So I can tell them, all the doctors that said I’m not supposed to be alive right now -- I have a list of them.”
They also have a message to keep others safe amid a pandemic that's taken so many lives.
“People just need to believe that it’s real," Teda said. "I lived it. It’s real. And to not only take responsibility for themselves, but their community. Help everyone else.”