KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Kurt Julian has been fighting on the COVID-19 pandemic front lines in one of the hotbeds for the virus but is now fighting for his own life.
Kurt and his wife Kathy are both registered nurses working in intensive care units for hospitals in Washington, where the first reported COVID-19 death was. Kathy had been working in one in Seattle, while Kurt was at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland.
Kurt, 63, was healthy with no underlying issues and had been protected head to toe while helping COVID-19 patients and still contracted the virus. Kathy thinks he got the virus from the last patient he took care of, who unfortunately passed away.
His symptoms started off with bad headaches and feeling lousy overall — exhibiting signs that correlate with the flu. A few days later, he started to feel worse. Kurt got tested at work, and 48 hours later his results came back positive. His condition continued to decline.
“He called me upstairs and said, ‘I think we need to call the ambulance,’ and so we did,” she recalls, holding back tears. “We went in that Saturday (April 24) and they placed him on a ventilator on Monday (April 27).”
She and their four kids tested negative for the virus.
“I’ve never been so glad to fail a test in my life.”Kathy Julian
Kurt is a Knoxville native. He graduated from Fulton High School in 1975 and attended the University of Tennessee for some time before he went to St. Mary’s to pursue his nursing degree.
He still has family here, and Kathy says the city still has his heart.
Childhood friend Chuck Cavalaris received the news this past Wednesday that Kurt had been placed on a ventilator, describing the call as a moment where “you’ll probably always remember where you were.”
Cavalaris says Kurt and him grew up in Arlington Baptist church where they became instant best friends.
“My father in a lot of ways was like his father. He was really the best friend I’ve ever had.”Chuck Cavalaris
Cavalaris posted a “prayer warriors” post on Facebook, asking for community members to keep Kurt and his family in their thoughts and prayers.
“We need to pray they he gets well and gets back to his family,” Cavalaris says, “and also get back to helping other coronavirus victims.”
The childhood friend says knowing Kurt, it did not surprise him that he would risk his life on the front lines against this disease.
“He’s amazing,” gushes Kathy who has been happily married to Kurt for almost 24 years.
He also lives an active lifestyle, by hiking and gardening, and has a sense of humor that is “off the charts” according to Kathy.
Kurt also enjoys 1970s rock music, the genre of music that can be heard played in the ICU he is in.
“Even though he’s sedated most of the time,” Cavalaris said. “I know that gives him some sort of comfort, and he appreciates having that music while he’s going through this.”
Kathy knows first-hand how severe and devastating this virus can be.
“This is a completely different animal that we’re dealing with.”Kathy Julian
Kathy says she hopes Kurt’s story will help shed some light to the severity of the COVID-19 virus noting this is something they have never seen before.
“The healthcare field, in general, is trying to scramble to figure out what’s going on because we’re not used to this,” she says.
Kurt is currently stable but one of the most difficult parts of this situation Kathy says is not being able to be by his side, with most hospitals not allowing visitors for in-patient care unless it’s a very unusual situation.
The restriction “goes against everything nurses believe we know that families are important,” Kathy says but says Evergreen has been great with conducting video chats so she can communicate with him.
While on the ventilator, patients have been turned on their stomachs periodically instead of their backs to improve oxygenation and to help use the healthy tissues in their lungs according to Kathy.
Being an ICU nurse herself, Kathy knew what he would look like on the ventilator and knows the procedures they are doing to help him, which has been “hugely comforting” for her. Continued support from family and friends have also provided great comfort during this tough time for their family.
"What has kept us stable as we are is prayer," says Kathy, "and I think that's what has brought Kurt as far as he is, prayer."
Aside from everyone keeping themselves safe, along with people around them, she and her family would appreciate the prayers and well wishes.
“That would be huge for me, and I know for Kurt.”
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