Three months and five days in the hospital, and Walter Sapp, Lt. Cmdr. Ret. U.S. Coast Guard, is a coronavirus survivor.
Sapp, 76, believed he did well surviving Vietnam 50 years ago.He served as a fighting sailor in “brown water navy,” boats that fought the Viet Cong on coastal and inland waterways.He never got a “Welcome Home” parade for that. But Saturday, he got a parade for surviving Covid-19, the novel coronavirus, the virus that has killed more than 130,000 Americans, many of them older citizens. More than 3 million Americans are infected, with Los Angeles County one of the nation’s hot spots.”I spent three months, and five days in the hospital,” Sapp said in an interview from his home. “And 39 days of it were in a coma. I don’t remember anything.”
Sapp, known as a veterans community supporter and Loyal Knight of Elks Lodge 1625 in Lancaster, was welcomed home by a thundering procession of motorcyclists from Patriot Guard Riders, Patriot Crusaders, bikers who ride with American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Following in cars were vet supporters from Sapp’s own military support group, Coffee4Vets, as well as Vets4Veterans, Point Man of the Antelope Valley and other groups.The signs were simple – “Welcome Home, Walter,” and “We Love You, Walter,” and “Semper Paratus,” the U.S. Coast Guard motto, meaning “Always Prepared.”
Scouts held aloft Old Glory and a Coast Guard flag, while Sapp, 76, waited on the front lawn, masked, and wheel-chair mobile.”I never leave the house without my mask,” he said. “This is serious.”
Sapp’s 97-day ordeal began in March when his wife, Susan, noted he had a fever. They drove around, seeking a drug pharmacy that would have an electronic thermometer, “but they were already sold out everywhere.”
They got to the doctor’s office and his regular care physician noted fever, and that his oxygen level was dangerously low.”He called 911, and that is the last thing that I remember.”Sapp’s circumstances were dire. He had a number of markers that could complicate his survival prospects. He was a 76-year-old African-American man, with underlying conditions from exposure to chemicals during the Vietnam War. The majority of fatalities have been above the age of 65, with underlying health conditions, and disproportionate numbers of African-American deaths.”At one point they expected that he would die, but I would not let that happen,” his wife said.
Rather than increasing drugs for comfort, she insisted on a tracheotomy to clear his airway. After about six weeks in the hospital, he was transferred to Greater West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center where he said, “I got the best care.””I had doctors, social workers, physical therapists,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, they were the best.”
Nearly 14 weeks later, he came home, a survivor.