Back in early March, Gene Rainbolt began having trouble breathing. At first, he thought it was his spring Oklahoma allergies kicking in. But tests showed it was something much more serious—COVID-19.
“I have always had severe allergies,” he said. “My doctor had been treating me for chronic bronchitis and put me on some heavy doses of Prednisone. That weakened my immune system and made me more susceptible to viruses.”
At age 91, the Oklahoma City businessman and civic leader was admitted to the hospital on March 19. Rainbolt says he never experienced the usual symptoms health experts say to expect.
“I never had fever or chills,” he said. “But my oxygen levels were extremely low, and I struggled for each breath. Fortunately, I wasn’t in ICU or on a ventilator. But I remember my medic sitting by my bed and telling me to breathe through my nose and exhale through my mouth.”
At one point, Rainbolt says he made a conscious decision he was going to live.
“The thing I remember most was that it seemed like I could either take one more breath or I could quit,” he said. “My son was on the phone and said ‘Dad, I need to see you again and your grandkids need to see you again.’ Right then I made a specific decision to keep living.”
After 23 days, Rainbolt was finally strong enough to return home. He’s walking every day and working with a trainer to regain his strength.
“I feel better than I have all year,” he said. “I run out of breath easily when I walk too far, but I am getting there. I just hope everyone takes this virus seriously. Wearing a face covering is something everyone should be doing. It’s foolish not to protect yourself and its foolish not to protect others.”
Rainbolt says he is also anxious to get back to work. He is co-chair of the American Cancer Society of Oklahoma’s Hope Lodge campaign, along with former Oklahoma State Treasurer Scott Meacham. The project is moving toward groundbreaking in early fall and will give cancer patients with limited income a place to stay when they travel to Oklahoma City for treatment.
“I am so pleased Hope Lodge Oklahoma City is going to finally be a reality,” he said. “It will give hope to people who have no hope. I’m all in to do everything I can, because the cancer fight is not over. COVID-19 affected me, and it also took a financial toll on organizations like the American Cancer Society. They are struggling and need our help. I just need to get better so I can get back in the ring and help finish this fight.”