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Our First COVID-19 Patient

Albert Barnes didn’t realize he was the first COVID-19 patient admitted to Lake Regional Health System. In fact, he didn’t even know he was in the hospital for the first eight days he spent in the Intensive Care Unit.

Barnes went from feeling a little sick to waking up on a ventilator more than a week later.

Today, he’s happy to report, “I feel like I didn’t even have it.”

At 70, the semi-retired Barnes is in the age group that has sustained the most severe complications thus far in the pandemic But, you wouldn’t know it to talk to him.

“I feel great, and I feel like I’m the lucky one, to tell you the truth, with the care I received at Lake Regional,” Barnes said.

Afterwards, he was informed that his girlfriend called the ambulance. He had recorded a 104.7°F temperature. Although he doesn’t remember being admitted to the hospital, he’s quick to point out the level of care of he received for the additional eight days he spent in the ICU.

“The people at Lake Regional saved my life,” Barnes said. “I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

“COVID changed how we do things,” said Harjyot “Joe” Sohal, M.D., a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Lake Regional who oversaw Barnes’ recovery and eventual release. “We had to limit the number of staff who could be in the room with the patient, and we could not allow visitors.”

Nurses helped Barnes use FaceTime to connect to family and friends, bringing a little bit of home and, perhaps a little bit of motivation, into his room.

COVID also changed the way follow-up care was provided to Barnes after he was discharged from the hospital. To keep everyone safe, Dr. Sohal scheduled telemedicine visits instead of in-person visits to Lake Regional Pulmonology.

During a recent virtual visit with Pulmonology Nurse Practitioner Cira Monnig, Barnes was eager to report that he’s up and moving around. He walked the screen over to his yard to show her the fresh-cut grass up against the rising water of the lake.

After thanking her profusely, Barnes went on to stress the importance of taking this virus seriously.

“Until it happened to me, I didn’t think much about it,” Barnes said. “People don’t know how serious this is. But I do, and it’s not good. You’ve got to protect yourself. Everybody’s vulnerable.”

Dr. Sohal is proud to report that Barnes tested negative for COVID-19 on April 20. He’s also proud to report on the strength of his team.

“The whole team worked so well together — nurses, respiratory therapists, housekeeping, dietary, support staff — everyone,” he said. “And, we are so thankful for the community support we have received.”

Barnes wholeheartedly agrees. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “They were so good. I would recommend that place for anything.”

To learn more about the coronavirus and ways to protect your family, visit