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‘You should be dead': Lake George man narrowly survives COVID

Tom and Margaret Leubner share their story because they want everyone to be considerate and take COVID-19 seriously.

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Margaret Leubner visits husband Tom at the Fargo hospital where he recovers from COVID. He spent one week in a drug-induced coma.

It’s a miracle that Tom Leubner is alive, doctors say.

The Leubners contacted the Enterprise to share his near-death tangle with COVID-19.

COVID also sent his wife, Margaret, to the hospital. Both were unvaccinated.

“The fact is not everybody has the second chance I got,” said Tom, a longtime resident of Lake George.

He wants the public to take COVID-19 seriously.

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Close to death

On July 11, the couple stopped to pick up groceries in Bemidji. While checking out, “Somebody without a mask on slammed into us and started coughing and sneezing. We were covered with his spittle,” Tom recalled.

Feeling unwell, they went to the Bemidji clinic on July 17, thinking it was a sinus infection. “I usually have bad allergies,” Tom, 69, said. He was given amoxicillin.

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The Leubners snapped this selfie at their first clinic visit when they started feeling unwell.

They returned on July 22, both feeling “lousy.” “We were sent to the emergency room and diagnosed with COVID and sent home,” he said.

Initially mild, the couple would develop a full-blown COVID infection from the Delta variant.

Margaret, 74, went into the hospital on July 26.

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COVID-19 sent Margaret to the hospital first in July. She is experiencing short-term memory loss and tires easily.

“The next day, I dropped,” Tom said.

When a good friend hadn’t heard from Tom, she asked the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a wellness check. A neighbor located Tom inside their Lake George cabin. They found him semi-conscious and muttering “God, please help me. God, please help me.”

They called an ambulance.

An EMT told him later, “‘There’s no way you should be alive’ because I had a 68-70% oxygen rate.”

“They said within an hour I would’ve been dead,” Tom said.

He wasn’t expected to survive an ambulance trip and the Bemidji hospital was full, so he was flown by helicopter to Fargo and put on a ventilator.

“They say the last thing to go before you die is your hearing. I distinctly heard them say, ‘Couple hours, he’ll be gone.’”

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When he attempted to remove the ventilator and get out of bed, Tom was put into a drug-induced coma for seven days. He came out of the coma on Aug. 2.

“They said there was no way I should’ve survived because there were other people coming in that had it less serious than me that died,” he continued.

Tom had a series of six mini-strokes on the left side of the brain. No damage appears to have been done, doctors say.

Margaret, a retired licensed practical nurse and massage therapist, said strokes are common, “plus so are blood clots – tiny ones that affect the kidney, the brain. Not large ones that would affect the heart.”

Tom was given warfarin, a blood thinner, for six weeks.

He also developed COVID pneumonia.

“We saw X-rays. All of his lungs were completely white, except for a spot about the size of a baby’s foot,” Margaret said. The doctor looked at the X-rays and said, “You shouldn’t be here. You should be dead.”

After being in the hospital for three weeks, he lost 30 pounds. He couldn’t walk due to the loss of muscle mass.

Doctors advised Tom to transfer to a rehab center in Detroit Lakes or Wadena, but he refused. He was discharged on Aug. 17 after demonstrating he could walk 150 feet with a walker.

Long COVID

Tom suffers from COVID nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by his near-death experience.

“A lot of times they say you can be in a drug-induced coma, but there are no limitations to the spiritual being. Basically, I was in His presence and with family that had gone before,” Tom said. “I recognized them. They were younger. They had an aura about them. Looking in the face of Christ and then seeing a change in His eyes and His hand pointing up, I thought, ‘I don’t want to go back,’ but I knew I had to.”

His mother passed away in May, at the age of 93. “I felt her presence. Matter of fact, I woke up on her birthday.”

Margaret is experiencing short-term memory loss following her bout with COVID. She, too, was on warfarin because she had a pre-existing condition called atrial fibrillation.

Margaret’s son, Moses, flew in from California to care for her while Tom was in the hospital.

“When I first got home, I kept saying for a while, ‘Who stole my brain?’ It’s like I had nothing there. I couldn’t think,” she said.

She also tires easily.

Tom completed three weeks of rehab in Park Rapids.

“I’m a quick healer,” he says. “I tire still. My cough is clearing up. My lungs are getting better.”

Friends have commented that Tom seems changed. “Well, you go through what I went through, you’re gonna to change,” he tells them.

‘Follow the mandates’

The Leubners urge everyone to wear a mask, wash hands, social distance and quarantine when sick.

“We’ve been places and had people laughing at us” for wearing a mask, Margaret said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Tom said he knows people who think COVID is a joke.

Often, the Leubners are the only ones wearing masks.

“I guess I’m the masked man of Lake George,” Tom quipped.

The Leubners say the vaccinated shouldn’t be overly confident and should continue to wear a mask as well.

“In reality, this is a matter of life and death. It’s not going to go away,” Tom said of COVID, unless people take the virus seriously. “Be considerate. That’s number one.”

Current statistics

As of Dec. 9, Hubbard County has seen 3,646 COVID infections and 49 people have died, according to CHI St. Joseph’s Community Health.

The level of the county’s transmission rate remains “high,” with a seven-day positivity rate of 16.79% between Dec.1-7.

Hubbard County’s vaccination rate for ages 5 and older (at least one dose) was 56% through Nov. 30. The state vaccination rate is 70% and nationwide it’s 79%.

Related Topics: CORONAVIRUS
Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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