Beating the odds: After nearly four weeks in ICU at PBMC, Cutchogue man is headed home

“We missed you. Welcome home!” “Go, gramps, go!”

Doctors, nurses, family and friends lined the entrance at Peconic Bay Medical Center, cheering and applauding as Rick Horton of Cutchogue was discharged from the hospital Wednesday.

The 67-year-old, who spent nearly four weeks in the ICU, is the second patient at PBMC to come off of a ventilator and be discharged.

“It was like being hit by a truck, and then the truck backed up and over me again,” Mr. Horton said, describing the ordeal. “These guys were great,” he added, thanking the team at PBMC for saving his life.

As he left the hospital, staff played “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles in what has become a tradition when discharging COVID-19 patients.

“There’s good days and bad days,” said Christine Kippley, chief nursing officer at PBMC. Days like Wednesday, she said, keep her going.

“It’s such a difficult, unusual situation,” Ms. Kippley said. “We have people leaving here every single day that are doing well. They go home and they’ll live normal lives,” she added, noting that the hospital has discharged over 100 COVID-19 patients so far.

“It motivates us to keep doing that,” she said.

As he was brought out into the sun for the first time in weeks, Mr. Horton’s wife, Debbie, rushed over to embrace him. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, no visitors are allowed at hospitals, nursing homes and similar facilities. 

“Not being able to see him, touch him … it was worse than labor, worse than any experience ever,” Ms. Horton said. “But getting him back is what we’ve been waiting for.”

She thanked the team of heroes for their care and helping the couple communicate while Mr. Horton was in the hospital.

“They were willing to do absolutely anything and everything,” she said, adding that her husband is healthy and active.

Ms. Horton said that she hopes sharing their story will inspire other patients and their families.

“This gives them the hope that if they do get ill, they can survive,” she said.

Around March 14, they both started coming down with what they thought was a cold. Mr. Horton had a fever so he was tested for the coronavirus; his wife did not have a fever so could not be tested.

Mr. Horton was admitted directly to ICU from the ER.

“It went bad real quick from there,” his wife said.

He was on a ventilator for five days of the nearly four-week hospital stay.

“Being a retired nurse, I knew all too well that that’s not good,” she said of her husband needing a ventilator. “It’s all a nightmare, a blur and yet a blessing in the end.”

He remained in the hospital after coming off the ventilator to recover. His air had to dissipate from inside his body.

The Hortons will celebrate their 47th anniversary this year. They have six children together and 12 grandchildren. Mr. Horton is retired from the Suffolk County Highway Department.

His kids and grandkids traveled from all over Long Island and even Connecticut to welcome him home.

Their daughter Sue Bowen, who traveled from Connecticut, described not only being concerned for her dad but also her mother, who was home alone and holding the family together.

“She had to call six kids every night,” she said. “I don’t know how she did it.”

Following the sendoff, a surprise parade drove by their Pine Tree Road home to offer support and well-wishes to Mr. Horton.

“That was over the top. I can’t believe it,” Mr. Horton said of the parade and surprise.

He sat in his rocker surrounded by family and said he was feeling tired. Looking back, he said he’s glad he went to the hospital that day when he had a fever. He otherwise didn’t feel sick.

“I was breathing fine,” he said.

Mr. Horton said all he wanted while he was at PBMC to was to get back home so his view of the floor could be replaced with green grass.

“I’m an outdoor guy anyway,” he said. “I’ve always been.”