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Tucson couple grateful for their lives together after harrowing year

Severe COVID survivor Kevin Ross, center, and his wife, Phylicia, talk with some of the ICU nurses that helped care for him during a small ceremony at Carondelet St. Joseph's Hospital in Tucson, including Rashell Wheeler, left, Maria Smith, Sarah Jimenez. Ross spent weeks in the hospital and suffered organ failure and cardiac arrest.

Phylicia and Kevin Ross don’t need the holidays to remind them of all they have: Gratitude has been continuous since a year ago, when Kevin almost died of coronavirus, and their son’s delivery became an emergency because of that same disease.

After months in the hospital and rehab last fall, Kevin Ross returned home just in time for Thanksgiving. Since then, the challenges have continued, but he is persevering, and looking forward to hosting the meal this year with extended family, along with his wife and sons Nicholas, 4, and Tommy, 1.

The couple became sick in August 2021 when Phylicia Ross had one month to go before son Tommy’s due date. Kevin Ross had just finished a Strongman competition and placed first.

As healthy people in their early 30s, neither thought they were candidates for severe cases of COVID-19. Phylicia Ross said they decided to wait on vaccines until after the baby was born.

Phylicia Ross became sick first, and the baby was taken early to help her breathe. “My oxygen levels were in the low 70s,” she said of that time.

Baby Tommy was in neonatal intensive care for three weeks but is fine now. He didn’t contract coronavirus, his mother said, but hospital staff wanted to watch him closely, and also make sure he was eating well.

“He’s never missed a meal since,” Phylicia Ross said, laughing about her 27-pound toddler.

Kevin was in the hospital for nearly six weeks, she said. He went into cardiac arrest twice, and spent about eight minutes without oxygen before they were able to revive him.

At that point, doctors thought Kevin Ross was not going to survive, and family were called in to say goodbye. Phylicia said she kept thinking about the baby, and how his father hadn’t even seen him yet.

They were told it was a matter of time before he died, she recalled, hours if they were lucky. But, for reasons Phylicia Ross said remain a wonderful mystery, her husband made it.

Severe COVID-19 survivor Kevin Ross and his wife, Phylicia, hold hands during a small ceremony recognizing his recovery and the medical staff that saved his life at Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson.

“He’s one of those really unbelievable cases,” said Dr. Nader Tashtoush, who is the system medical director for critical care medicine for both St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s hospitals. “It’s one of the most remarkable stories we have for this year.”

Tashtoush said that after they were able to get Ross’ heart beating again, he was only taking in about 30-40% of the oxygen his body needs for almost an hour.

That’s when serious problems with the brain and the organs can arise, Tashtoush said. The medical staff kept pressing forward, he said, thinking of a young man with a new baby and a young son, a person they knew was far too young to die.

Seeing him recover has been wonderful, Tashtoush said.

“We’re all really excited to see him rejoined with his family, playing with his sons,” he said. “We knew we needed to do the extra mile.”

The medical challenges have continued, mostly because of the time he was without oxygen. He has chronic kidney and heart problems now, brain damage to his frontal lobe, and short-term memory loss. His speech is off, she said, slurred and slow.

He had to wear a defibrillator for four months and, Phylicia Ross said, takes medication now to keep his heart beating at about 50 percent of its normal function.

There are also financial challenges: Kevin Ross hasn’t been able to work since he got sick, and they have been waiting for months on disability benefits.

But this couple — married seven years in January and together since Sabino High School — said the challenges aren’t deterring them:

“It goes up and down,” Kevin Ross said. “It sucks that I can’t do a lot of things, that’s true, but I’m getting better.”

Is he optimistic his health will continue to improve? “Definitely.”

Main Event, an arcade and entertainment venue, will open in Tucson next year. Video by Gabriela Rico, Arizona Daily Star, courtesy of Main Event and Bourn Companies

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 520-235-0308 or pmachelor@tucson.com.


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