A Northern Virginia family’s son survived 70 days in the hospital battling COVID-19, only to face a new struggle in two rehab facilities, isolated without family due to the pandemic.
Robin and Albert Thomas Sr. shared their experience in hopes that rehab centers will consider taking a new approach.
News4's Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey has been covering this side of the state since joining NBC4 in 1992. She's joined by reporter Drew Wilder.
Albert Thomas Jr. stood 6 foot 2 inches. Family and friends considered him a gentle giant devoted to his local teams.
“He loved all sports and he loved his D.C. sports,” his mother, Robin, said.
Father and son often watched games together, but in March both also contacted coronavirus. They were admitted to an Inova Hospital one day apart.
Albert Jr., who had diabetes, was hit hard and sent directly to the intensive care unit.
“It was absolutely heart-rendering for me. I literally sat on pins and needles,” Robin said.
Dad, Al, recovered quickly but Albert was put on a ventilator and an oxygen machine.
Albert was near death more than once, but a picture taken during a video call near the end of his 70-day stay shows he summoned the strength to wave.
Once he was breathing on his own again, but grappling with lung, heart and kidney damage, the next stop was a rehab facility.
“We were so euphoric because there were a couple of times we couldn’t even convince ourselves he was going to make it, Robin said. “It was just a miracle.”
The couple waited for hours for the ambulance arrive so they could just briefly see their son after months.
“That day we ambushed the ambulance so we could actually see him. So for the first time in 70-some days, we actually got to see him,” dad Al said.
But their euphoria and optimism that Albert had turned a corner faded quickly.
The Thomases say they got very little information about their son’s care and his therapy. Calls went unanswered, they said.
“The falloff from Inova was so great that it made us unsettled,” Robin said.
Frustrated, they changed rehab facilities, but their fears only grew as the pattern repeated.
Then, the night of July 13 came devastating news.
First, a phone call saying Albert was unresponsive. Then, 20 minutes later, the devastating news that staff couldn’t revive him, the couple recalled.
Albert passed away after months of battling COVID-19.
“We knew he was sick, but he was such a fighter and he’d been through so much. So, to lose him then was horrifying for us. We were not prepared.”
The couple is sharing their story to alert other families to the challenges that may come after the hospital.
The Thomas family says most painful for them is the isolation their son and other COVID-19 patients experience, both in the hospital and in rehab.
The couple believes rehab centers need to consider relaxing their visitation policies so families can take a more active role in recovery.
“If we’d been allowed to visit, we would have been there when he coded. There’s no way one of us wouldn’t have been there. So, this isolation is counterproductive,” Al said.
One bit of consolation in their terrible loss is that their son’s early COVID case helped others.
“The doctors themselves said they learned from our son,” Robin said.