After contracting COVID-19 in April, Southold man faced months of physical recovery at PBMC’s Skilled Nursing Facility

“You’re going to get out of that bed, you’re going to do therapy, and you’re going to get home.”

Those were the first words occupational therapist David Tsoumpelis spoke to 62-year-old John Peters when he was admitted to the Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Facility on June 5.

“He was doubting and then little by little, he started believing,” Mr. Tsoumpelis said Thursday after celebrating Mr. Peters’ discharge 132 days later.

As he was wheeled into the entryway, Mr. Peters held his wife’s hand and raised the other in the air to wave to friends, family and hospital staff who lined up to cheer him on.

One by one, Mr. Peters said his goodbyes to the team of physicians, nurses and therapists who all played a role in getting him to this point. Leaning in for a handshake with an LPN, Mr. Peters tugged his mask down for a second: “You’re my hero,” he said.

For Mr. Peters, who contracted the coronavirus in April, beating the virus was the first step toward overcoming it. He was previously hospitalized at Stony Brook University Medical Center and when he arrived at PBMC, he was unable to walk or talk as a result of his prolonged battle with COVID-19.

Once he got past the worst of the illness, Mr. Peters faced new challenges of gaining his strength and speech back and celebrated each milestone along the way.

“Trying to get him to sit at the edge of the bed was our first big goal,” recalled physical therapist Anna Szlejter, who worked closely with Mr. Peters. “Now, he’s walking. With help, but he’s walking and he’s determined to go back to independence.”

Despite an uphill battle, Ms. Szlejter and Mr. Tsoumpelis both said Mr. Peters’ positive attitude, many jokes and requests to dance to southern rock music motivated them, too.

“He’s an inspiration to all of us because no matter what, if it was a bad day or a good day, he had a smile on his face,” Ms. Szlejter said, wiping tears from her eyes after hugging Mr. Peters goodbye.

Family members had been waiting more than six months to finally be able to embrace again. “We’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” said brother-in-law Bill Birkmier.

Hospital officials said Mr. Peters is the last of the ‘first-wave’ patients to leave PBMC and said they are preparing in case they must contend with a second wave of the virus.

Data released Wednesday from Suffolk County shows that countywide, 42 patients remain hospitalized due to COVID-19 plus 10 patients in the Intensive Care Unit.

A sign to welcome home John. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Of 2,994 hospital beds, 785—or 26 percent—are available along with 86 of 382 ICU beds, county officials said.

It may be some time before Mr. Peters’ life returns to normal. But after leaving the hospital, he’s on his way.

And while he still has a long road ahead in his recovery, Mr. Birkmier described his brother-in-law as a “stubborn” fighter who never gives up.

“He wouldn’t be where he is today without [the hospital staff], there’s no question. Our family is indebted,” he said.

Speaking about his patient, Mr. Tsoumpelis said Mr. Peters epitomizes resiliency. “It’s rewarding to watch [patients] go home and live the life they were living,” he said. “That gives us strength, to see them go home.”