By Michael Abeyta

DENVER (CBS4) – Russ Fortna wheeled his wheelchair out the front door of Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital Saturday morning. A crowd of health care providers and his family cheered him on because this is the end of a journey for him.

“It’s been a long haul, but compared to where I was is like night and day,” he said.

He has been in a hospital bed for eight months. He is a heart transplant recipient, but that’s not why he was here. He was recovering from COVID-19.

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He came down with the virus back in December and became very sick. The doctors and nurses at UCHealth saved his life. Then he was transferred to Kindred Hospital, and finally to Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital where he was under the care of their COVID-19 pathway team which has one goal:

“To help patients ween off oxygen, build their endurance, build their strength and build their functional mobility back to being as independent as possible,” said Kim Axelrod, Russ’s Physical Therapist.

At one point, Russ was given a less than 1% chance to make a full recovery, but he worked hard to get his strength back.

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“I have too much living yet to do,” Russ said.

This attitude is no surprise to his son, Joe, who, along with his wife Bobbie, were with him every step of the way.

“He has worked extremely hard to get where he is,” Joe said.

The doctors at Spalding say they’ve never seen someone make such a huge recovery. “He’s a miracle,” said Axelrod.

Now at the end of this painful journey, as is the case with all endings, is the beginning of a new one. Russ is going home to be with his family. Reflecting upon his journey back to health e has one message to anyone wanting to glean inspiration from his story. “Get your shots because we’re having another epidemic go on right now simply because people have been misinformed of lazy,” Russ said.

Michael Abeyta