Gary Nance: On His Near-Death Survival From COVID-19 and Sharing What You Should Know

Gary Nance

June 2020

Imagine one day, going about your normal routine, workout, job, family and life, but you begin to feel a little cold coming on. You think nothing of it because you’re the epitome of good health, but within about a week’s time, you’re in the hospital’s ICU, diagnosed with COVID-19 and a ventilator is keeping you alive. Your prognosis is uncertain. Your family is prohibited from visiting you in the hospital and is relying on the doctors’ daily reports on your condition. One Carmel family doesn’t have to imagine. They lived it, and they want to share their story with our readers in hopes of informing the community—firsthand—of the insidious effects of COVID-19.

Gary Nance—An Unlikely Victim of COVID-19

Carmel resident Gary Nance is a highly respected and celebrated architect for his residential and commercial design expertise. His firm, Gary Nance Design, has been featured in multiple local, regional and national publications. He is also an award-winning body builder who—prior to contracting COVID-19—was the epitome of excellent health. But, as Gary shared with me in a recent interview, none of that mattered. The virus did not care that he wasn’t overweight, consumed a healthy diet and is an overall great husband, father, contractor and friend.

Gary Nance
Gary Nance-before being diagnosed with COVID-19-was actively competing in body building championships.

In addition to Gary’s account of his harrowing near-death experience, you will read accounts from his wife, Nancy, daughter Taylor and son Nick Nance who were all gracious to share their intimate thoughts and memories about Gary’s 22-day hospital stay at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital-Indianapolis, and his recovery at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (RHI).

It Was More Than Just a “Cold”

Gary recalled it was a Saturday afternoon on March 14, and he was participating in a charity push-up challenge.

“The challenge was right at the beginning when the pandemic was closing things down,” Gary said. “After the [challenge], I went about my Saturday night like I normally do. I got up Sunday morning, and I had a fever of 101 degrees. I took couple of Tylenol and took it easy the rest of the day. I started to feel really hot later in that same afternoon, and my temperature was 103 degrees.”

Gary contacted his family doctor. Both men suspected Gary might have COVID-19.

“My doctor told me to monitor my temperature through the night and call him the following morning,” Gary said. “I told him it [my temperature] was up and down from 101 to 103 degrees. He told me to head over to St. Vincent Hospital-Carmel and that the staff would be waiting for me.”

The medical staff ushered Gary into an exam room and conducted a series of tests, including a chest X-ray. Altogether, Gary said it was a three-hour ordeal. The doctors informed him that he had a partially collapsed left lung and pneumonia. They had also tested him for COVID-19.

Gary was released and given some medication to help with his symptoms along with orders to quarantine until his test results came back.

“Nancy moved into a bedroom down the hall so I could be more comfortable,” Gary shared. “I was having trouble sleeping and couldn’t get comfortable. Three days after my visit to the ER, the doctors called and said that I had tested positive.”

When asked how he felt at that point in time, Gary replied, “You know, I was mad that I got [COVID-19], but I didn’t feel that bad.”

Nancy added, “Gary went from working on that Friday, he was fine on Saturday and by Sunday he was coughing. Then the following Sunday, he was in the hospital [St. Vincent Hospital-Indianapolis] and put on a ventilator, all in a week’s time. We went from feeling like we weren’t likely to get [the virus] to getting it and, all of sudden, Gary’s fighting for his life.”

Admitted in the Nick of Time

Gary and Nancy shared how she had gone up to check on Gary around 7 p.m. and found him gasping for air. She immediately dialed 911.

“Nancy had to help me down the steps to the door to meet the paramedics who were already waiting,” Gary shared. “The last thing I remember is the paramedics—some of Carmel’s finest—grabbing each arm. I kind of remember being lifted into the ambulance, and then that’s it for the next 20 days. I don’t remember the ambulance ride or being taken into the hospital.”

According to Nancy, she called the paramedics around 7 p.m. and the doctors called her at 1 a.m. to inform her that Gary had been put on a ventilator.

“It was close,” Nancy whispered. “If they [EMTs] hadn’t gotten him there that quickly, it might not have turned out the way that it did. I had called Taylor, and she came over just as they were lifting Gary into the ambulance. We couldn’t get close to each other, and all I could say to her was, ‘Honey, he’s going to be OK.’ Then she had to leave and go home by herself, which was just heartbreaking. And I was here [at home] alone. I had faith that Gary was in the best hands, and when the doctors called me that night, I told them that I hated that this was happening to him but that I was glad he was there with them [the doctors] because he was in the best of care.”

Gary’s daughter Taylor and son Nick shared their memories of that horrid night.

“The ambulance drove off and [because of the unknowns regarding COVID-19], I couldn’t hug my mom. Then three hours later, the doctors at St. Vincent told us he [Gary] had been put on the ventilator.”

Taylor expressed her gratitude for the doctors’ communication and level of care they provided to the Nance family that night and all through Gary’s ordeal.

She added, “The doctors at St. Vincent communicated in such an incredible way, considering this was all new to them as well.”

Nick and his wife, Brittany, live in Chicago and were not able to come back home to be with his mom or sister due to pandemic-related restrictions.

“I hadn’t seen my dad since January,” Nick said. “I got a call from him the weekend of the 14th [of March], that Sunday night actually, and he had a fever but sounded totally normal otherwise. I spoke with him daily that following week, and though he wasn’t feeling well, he still sounded normal. So, up until the point he was admitted to the hospital at St. V’s on 86th Street and intubated, I wasn’t worried.”

18 Days Ventilated

It doesn’t take a medical professional to ascertain the severity of being on a ventilator for as long as Gary was. The effects of being immobilized on top of the havoc the virus itself was having on Gary’s body were devastating.

Nick’s wife, Brittany, is a physician assistant in Chicago and was immensely helpful in translating what Gary’s doctors were sharing with Nick, Brittany and Taylor, who had taken over communications as their mom was also recovering at home with what was later diagnosed as a mild case of COVID-19.

“My wife and I would call the nurses station every day,” Nick said. “The nursing staff was fantastic at updating us, and the doctors called us in the afternoon to give us updates. Considering he was in the ICU for COVID-19, the communication was fantastic.”

Nick went on to explain that as the days and weeks unfurled, the recovery of patients who have been ventilated for as long as Gary had been gave sufficient cause for worry.

“It wasn’t until Saturday, April 11, that the doctors tried to extubate him because they thought he was doing well enough and weren’t going to attempt it until they were really certain he would do OK,” Nick explained. “The last thing they wanted to do was have to reintubate him. Within five minutes [of being extubated], he was doing so poorly, they had to reintubate him.”

It was that point, Nick said, the emotions were running high.

“I had hit my bottom point because he was not doing well and his prognosis at that point was not good at all,” Nick somberly shared. “But then, believe it or not, that following Tuesday, we got a call from the doctors saying he was improving, and they were weaning his oxygen intake down. That Wednesday, he was doing so well that they extubated him—this time successfully. I went from thinking I was never going to see or speak with my dad again to ‘Oh, wow! Things are changing and looking up!”

Nancy shared that throughout the entire time Gary was on a ventilator, she never lost faith.

“It was scary, of course,” Nancy shared. “But I wouldn’t let myself go to the place of wondering what if he didn’t come out of it. There were a couple of days that I was in a bad place, but then I pulled myself out of it. We had the most incredible support from family, friends, clients and neighbors. It was just unbelievable the number of people who were calling and texting and praying for him and asking what they could do.”

The Gary Gazette

Taylor kept her father’s friends and clients apprised of what was happening by developing a daily update she lovingly dubbed “The Gary Gazette.” Taylor works with Gary at his design firm, Gary Nance Design.

“I took his cell phone that night [he was admitted to the hospital] to keep up with work and stuff,” Taylor said. “I think what kept me going through this was his clients and friends. I started doing a group text that I called ‘The Gary Gazette’ and would update everyone each day. And I think that helped me out a lot.”

Collectively, the Nance family shared their immense gratitude to all of their loved ones, friends, clients and neighbors for the outpouring of support and well wishes they received and continue to receive as Gary continues in his recovery.

Rehabbing at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (RHI)

When Gary woke up after being extubated, he had been “sleeping” for 18 days. Gary shared that his first words after waking up were, “What the hell?” For those closest to Gary, that came as no shock. After 22 days at St. Vincent Hospital, Gary was transported to RHI for arduous rehabilitation therapy.

“We were wondering when [Gary] got off the ventilator if he would be himself and was he going to be able to draw again,” Taylor shared. “I know he was thinking the same thing. And if he hadn’t been at [RHI], there’s no way he would be recovering at the level he is today. When he first got there, he couldn’t even hold a pencil, and now he’s back to drawing again.”

Gary and his family shared that before he was released from ICU at St. Vincent Hospital, he had to learn how to swallow again. And during his time at RHI, he had to learn how to walk again and complete ordinarily mundane tasks, like making a bed.

“I remember sitting there going, this might be the end of my career,” Gary said. “But, I will tell you, the people at RHI are probably the most interesting, professional people in their field, and I love them. They kept me going mentally, which is really key, as well as physically. And they were so positive. I just can’t say enough about that place.”

Home at Last

Gary was released from RHI on May 1, and for the first time, Gary and his family were able to see each other up close and put their hands on each other since he was first admitted back in March.

Gary Nance
Gary Nance prior to his COVID-19 diagnosis.

“We finally were able to FaceTime with Gary when he was off the ventilator,” Nancy said. “And that was a shock because it did not look like him at all. He had lost 50 pounds within a month, and when he came home, he looked like a different person. But he’s gotten so much stronger.”

Taylor expressed, “The night before [he came home], my mom and I couldn’t sleep. The last time I had [physically seen him], he was being lifted into the ambulance and was looking at me like I was a stranger. Then, as he’s being released from RHI, he came out from around the corner dancing and smiling.”

Gary added, “I came around the corner, and RHI had almost the entire physical therapy staff and doctors gathered to congratulate me and send me off. I have to say that not only are the therapists amazing, the entire nursing staff and doctors at RHI are first rate! So, I did a little dance and twirl, but what you don’t see is me getting into the car completely out of breath but happy to be with my family. And when I got home, I slept for three hours.”

What the Nance Family Wants People to Know About COVID-19

Gary may have survived his brush with death, but the effects of the virus and his long-term immobility still linger.

“The doctors told me that if I had not been in the kind of shape I was before being diagnosed, I would definitely not have made it,” Gary emphasized. “They have told me that my recovery is a marathon—not a sprint. And I’m continuing with out-patient physical therapy. My sense of smell has been greatly diminished, and my sense of taste is just slightly diminished. Even though I get tired, I have difficulty sleeping at night. I’m taking Eliquis for the blood clot in my arm and a strong multivitamin.”

Gary concluded, “I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘When I heard you had [COVID-19], it made me think twice about the things that I was doing and about taking a few more precautions.’ My point for the public is this pandemic is not over. It’s not like having the flu. Stay safe.”