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Healing a Hero

As we celebrate Memorial Day amid a pandemic, we are proud to share the story of Chief Master Sergeant John Flaugher. He serves in the 131st Bomb Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard, and for 39 days this spring, he was a patient in our Intensive Care Unit.

At 51 years of age and in good condition, Chief Flaugher didn’t fit the physical description of most COVID-19 inpatients. Many are older and have pre-existing conditions that limit their immune system’s ability to fight off the virus. Following a positive test, taken after a family friend tested positive, Chief Flaugher found himself dealing with labored breathing, coughing, loss of taste and overall fatigue.

He came to Lake Regional under his own power, and three days later his oxygen levels dropped to the point where he required the assistance of a ventilator.

For the next several weeks, his wife, Danielle, was unable to visit him in his room as doctors, nurses and staff worked to address complications of his illness. “The oxygenation started to improve, and then the kidneys began to fail,” explains Dr. Joe Sohal, Critical Care Specialist at Lake Regional Health System. “And once that got fixed, well, he ended up with encephalitis which is inflammation around the brain . . . so you take two steps forward and a step back.”

But Mrs. Flaugher never took a step back. She visited his window every single day of his recovery. Even if he didn’t know she was there, she wanted to be as present as possible for him. “We actually celebrated his birthday outside the window. He wasn’t awake, but we decorated his window. It was still nice for me to be able to just see him.”

Chief Flaugher went on to receive round-the-clock care, including plasma exchanges, and eventually started to turn the corner. When he began regaining strength and tested negative for COVID-19, it was time to transfer him to a recovery facility.

The hospital became the scene of a spontaneous send-off with heroes on both sides of a parade with the one being honored in the middle.

Nurses, doctors, administrators and staff escorted him out of the building with applause and homemade signs while family, friends and fellow National Guardsmen joyfully received him and thanked Lake Regional personnel.

In the words of Intensive Care Unit Manager Erin Whitcomb, “I’m so proud of our team at all levels. We were here when Chief Flaugher needed us most. He never gave up, and neither did we.”

The Missouri Air National Guard and the Department of Defense in no way endorses this medical facility but thanks it for the superb care provided to one of our Guard members.