Omaha Man Hospitalized With COVID: 'I Thought I Could Get Through It on My Own'

Nov. 20, 2020, 12:32 p.m. ·

Dana Wendelin is a PE teacher at an elementary school in Lincoln. (Courtesy: Dana Wendelin)

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COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state have hit record levels nearly every day this month. As those rising numbers strain the hospital system, one Nebraska man says he’s grateful he got care when he needed it.

Dana Wendelin lives in Omaha and usually goes to the gym as many as six days a week. That’s on top of his job as a PE teacher at an elementary school in Lincoln.

He just turned 50 and says his health has always been a top priority. So when he first started feeling sick in early October, he thought: hey, if anyone can fight this off, I can.

The first symptom was a headache that just wouldn’t go away.

(Courtesy: Dana Wendelin)

"It felt like almost somebody had taken a baseball bat and has beaten the side of my temples, he said. "It was like that 24 hours around the clock."

He got a COVID test on a Monday. Then came a fever with chills and body aches. By Thursday night, he was feeling it in his lungs. The next day he finally got the test results: positive.

As breathing got more and more difficult, Dana decided he needed help.

His sister Janelle Comer says he spent three and half hours in the emergency room before being admitted.

"They didn't admit him right away because they said they were holding beds for the sickest of the sick," she said. "And so when they did admit him it was a little scary."

A chest x-ray and a CT scan showed the doctors why Dana was having such difficulty breathing.

"It was just very shocking to the doctors that somebody in his physical condition had lungs in this bad of shape," Janelle said.

"The doctor said that it's probably a good thing that my immune system is as strong as it is and I'm as healthy as it is, or else it could have been way worse than what it was," Dana said.

Even with that good immune system on his side, Dana spent a week in the hospital on oxygen.

He counts himself lucky he never had to go on a ventilator. But he’ll never forget the experience.

"It's not fun," he said. "And the thing about it is, it's not just having the COVID. It’s just being in the hospital by yourself was so damn lonely."

Dana’s home and back to work, but a month later he still has trouble breathing when he works out.

Janelle says it’s been an eye-opening experience.

"It is way scarier than you can even imagine," she said. "We're just really grateful that I think he got in at the right time."

Dana says he’s always been careful about wearing his mask everywhere and he’s not sure how he got the virus.

Being hospitalized with COVID has definitely changed his perspective.

"Like I've been telling everybody, man, this thing, this COVID is real. You know there for a while I was thinking let's just get over with let's move on with our lives but the thing is real," he said. "Sanitize, wash hands and if you got symptoms, stay away from other people. And just be careful. That's all I want people to know. Just be careful."