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'A really miraculous story': 94-year-old Beatrice man defies virus odds
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'A really miraculous story': 94-year-old Beatrice man defies virus odds

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Arnold Zimmerman's family had his obituary written. 

They were that sure coronavirus was going to take the life of their 94-year-old patriarch. 

Zimmerman caught the virus at his Gold Crest Retirement Center residence and was taken to CHI Health St. Elizabeth on April 5. He is diabetic, and over time the virus moved to his lungs, slowed his kidneys, confused his mind and stopped his desire to eat and drink. 

He told the doctors: Do not resuscitate. No feeding tube. No ventilator. 

"We thought he was going to die," said his daughter Connie Jurgens. 

In fact, Dr. Sean Hansen, St. Elizabeth director of hospital medicine, who took care of Zimmerman, said the patient had quite a few chronic medical conditions and suffered significant complications from the virus: pneumonia, respiratory and kidney failure and a delirium that complicated his hospital stay.

Sean Hansen

Dr. Sean Hansen, director of hospital medicine at CHI St. Elizabeth's.

Given his significant decline in his 24 days in the hospital, Hansen told Zimmerman's daughter he didn't think her father would survive. Certainly the odds were not in his favor. 

But survive he did. And Hansen can't explain his recovery medically.

"It was a really miraculous story for him," Hansen said. 

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Zimmerman, of Beatrice, had barely been at the Gold Crest Retirement Center in Adams for 10 weeks when it was locked down in mid-March because of the virus.

About three weeks later, he was on his way to Lincoln and a bed at St. Elizabeth, Jurgens said. His son-in-law's mother Ina Jurgens, also a Gold Crest resident, was taken to St. Elizabeth after testing positive at the same time.

In all, at least 18 Gold Crest residents and six staff members have contracted the illness, and three residents have died. 

Until his release from the hospital Wednesday, Zimmerman's family saw him last through the window of the retirement center the day he was taken to Lincoln. 

"I thought that was 'goodbye goodbye,'" Jurgens said. 

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About nine days ago, Zimmerman had one of his worst days. He became despondent. His oxygen needs rose. Clinically, he looked like the end was probably near, Hansen said. That's when his daughter, Betty Johnson, of Hickman, started writing an obituary for the World War II Army veteran.  

A couple of days later, Hansen called Jurgens and told her: "We've got a new man today." He was awake, asking questions and thanking his doctor. 

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About a week later, he was leaving the hospital after 24 days to live with his son, Larry, in Blue Springs, so he didn't have to go back into isolation at Gold Crest, even though he loved being with the people there, Jurgens said. 

"I don't think anyone ever is going to fully understand the mysteries that surround COVID-19, and why some patients suffer serious consequences — young, old — and they succumb to the illness," Hansen said. 

And why some have no symptoms, milder symptoms or a difficult time and then recover. 

91-year-old COVID-19 patient released from CHI St. Elizabeth

In the short time they have treated COVID-19 patients, Hansen said, hospital personnel have learned a lot about what works well and what doesn't, and how patients can change clinically within hours, crashing sometimes for no explainable reason. 

Zimmerman is getting stronger each day, his daughter said. "And hopefully he's got antibodies." 

He's still a bit confused, and has some recovering to do, Jurgens said.  

"I think he's happy," she said. "We can see him, and hug him. We wear masks and take the precautions, of course." 

His daughter gives credit for his recovery to a lot of prayers and to the St. Elizabeth medical team. 

Hansen also gives credit to St. Elizabeth's respiratory therapists, physical therapists, doctors, and especially nurses who are with these patients 24 hours a day. 

"In Mr. Zimmerman's case, the staff, the nurses, they did what we always do when we have a challenge. They rise," he said. 

Ina Jurgens, 92, who went to St. Elizabeth at the same time as Zimmerman, is still there but improving, Connie Jurgens said.

Ina Jurgens

Ina Jurgens, 92, who went into the hospital from Gold Crest with COVID-19, has not been released, but is recovering. Her daughter-in-law's father, Arnold Zimmerman, recovered and went home after 24 days in the hospital.

"It's not a death sentence when you hear you have COVID, even at 94 and 92," Jurgens said. 

Hansen said it's also important for Lincoln to know that even though families can't be with their patients in the hospital, no one is alone. 

"We become part of their extended family," he said. "That's an important part of our mission. We're all in this together." 

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Photos: Lincoln during the pandemic

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature

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