COVID-19 survivor meets nurses that saved his life, became family at Kansas hospital

John Rathbun was in the hospital for 35 days
John Rathbun
Posted at 4:56 PM, May 11, 2021

LAWRENCE, Kan. — A COVID-19 survivor got to meet some of the nurses that took care of him at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Kansas.

John Rathbun started to have trouble breathing last summer. After an emergency room visit, he later tested positive for COVID-19. He spent time at home recovering but things got worse. Rathbun, who's both a father and grandfather, needed to be admitted to the hospital.

"They had called my wife and said, 'Hey, there is a good chance John is going to be put on a ventilator. Does he have a DNR?'" Rathbun told KSHB last November.

His wife, kids and grandkids couldn't be by his side due to the virus. But while he was in the hospital, he gained a hospital family and wrote down the name of every single nurse and technician that took care of him in his phone, but didn't tell anyone.

Months later, he sent a letter to the hospital expressing his thanks. In that letter, he listed the health care workers that took care of him. Rathbun spent 35 days in the hospital with his new family and when he left, he never thought he would see these heroes ever again. But, he was wrong.

Last Wednesday, KSHB coordinated with the hospital to bring in a few of the nurses that spent time with Rathbun. Registered nurses Tanya Eckhardt, Kiel Donahey, Matt Kring and Gina Rose were there to give him a big hug.

He was totally caught by surprise.

“You look a lot better," one of the nurses said.

"I am a lot better," Rathbun said to the nurse.

He couldn't believe he was standing in front of the people that helped him at his worst.

“You guys just made it livable. You made it real. You guys made me realize I had hope," Rathbun said. “Means a lot to my family. They couldn’t come and see me. You guys became my family.”

Nurses like Tanya Echhardt would come into his room, dressed in head to toe in personal protective equipment, all to care for Rathbun and countless others.

“I can’t tell you how many times we came in extra, worked long hours, long days. We would be in there throwing patients together, five of us in a room taking care of a patient," said Tanya Eckhardt, a registered nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

When the Rathbun walked into the room to see these nurses, in his hand was his list.

"I kept it every day, man. I’ve thought about all of you since then," Rathbun said.

There are 66 people on that list, his own personal nurses hall of fame.

“It just showed how much you really appreciated what we do," Eckhardt said.

They didn't know he was keeping track of the names. But now, they're touched.

“It was rough. There were a lot of people who weren’t getting better and we saw that. Like Matt was saying, it just gives us a lot of hope and makes us feel good that we are doing the right thing and getting the right message across," said Kiel Donahey, a registered nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Rathbun said the reason he still has the list on his phone is because he wants to remember the people who became his family when he couldn't see his own.

“These people have lives outside but they are coming in for 12 hours a day and giving you everything they got and then they gotta go home and take care of their own. That makes you realize the sacrifice that they are all making," Rathbun said.

He said he will never forget his new family and the feeling is mutual.

"Well, you got a crazy family," Gina Rose, registered nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital said.

"That’s okay. I am happy to claim every last one of you," Rathbun said.

This story was originally published by Jordan Betts at KSHB.