On the day he was released from Gaylord Speciality Healthcare following rehab from his bout with COVID-19, West Hartford resident Peter Baldwin serenaded his providers and family members with “The Impossible Dream.”
By Ronni Newton
Ella Fawber of West Hartford paced back and forth outside Gaylord Specialty Healthcare Friday morning. It was a morning that, a few weeks ago, she could not have dared to imagine.
Fawber was waiting outside for her husband, Peter Baldwin, 61, to walk out the door of the rehabilitation facility which has been his home for the past several weeks. “It’s finally come, and we’re so excited,” she told a group of reporters.
Everyone could hear Baldwin before they could see him, as he stood in the lobby, singing “The Impossible Dream,” a song that he chose to honor not only the Gaylord staff who worked tirelessly to help him regain his strength, but also for the patients who remain fighting to regain their health and mobility. He sang outside the hospital as well.
Several of the Fawner-Baldwin children (there are six in all in the blended family) – Lindsay Fawber, Annie Fawber and Carey Baldwin-Barber – also waited for the first glimpse of their dad.
Visitors aren’t allowed inside Gaylord, where many COVID-19 patients, like Baldwin, have been brought for rehabilitation. Some are still on ventilators when they arrive, and even those who are not, like Baldwin, are much to weak to go home.
Fawber said Baldwin received his positive COVID-19 diagnosis on May 14, and by the 17th he was in the hospital. “It was nothing we expected,” she said. “We thought thought it would be a mild case, but by Sunday we knew something was wrong.”
Watching her spouse rushed to the hospital by ambulance was terrifying, Fawber said. By Wednesday he was in the Intensive Care Unit of Hartford Hospital, and on Friday, May 22, he was placed on a ventilator.
Her voice breaking, Fawber spoke of how fortunate he was, after receiving various types of therapy – including Remdesivir and plasma – to be removed from the ventilator, and to survive. At one point, doctors told her he had just a 50-50 chance of survival.
And as if the journey wasn’t already rough enough, Fawber had contracted COVID-19 as well. She had already been diagnosed when Baldwin went to the hospital – but her case was less severe.
“I was cleaning and I didn’t smell the Pledge,” she said, and her test, like Baldwin’s was positive. She said she had a fever for about 10 days, but was able to recover at home.
Fawber said she doesn’t know how they got infected, and all they could guess was that they were infected by someone who was asymptomatic.
Baldwin has come to be known as “The Singing Carpenter,” and that’s what he named his carpentry business, which specializes in kitchen and bathroom construction. He had trained as a singer at the Hartt School, and has twice performed the National Anthem for the Chicago Cubs – one of those performances being at Wrigley Field in August 2017. “It was a dream come true,” he said.
But Friday, nothing could match the dream of walking out of the hospital, enveloping his wife in a bear hug and giving her a big kiss, and hugging his children, telling all how much he loves them.
“Hello there, how you doing cameras?” Baldwin said to the assembled reporters as he walked through the doors flanked by his therapists. “I’m damn good,” was his response to a question about how he was doing.
“It’s been a long road,” Baldwin said. “Starting May 17 I went by chariot to Hartford Hospital – that would be an ambulance,” he said.
He doesn’t remember much about his time at Hartford Hospital, but said he was told he was part of the first drug trial for Remdesivir, and received four plasma treatments as well as steroids when he was on the ventilator.
“The doctor told my wife it was going to be 50-50. That was sobering,” said Baldwin. He believes he was there at the right time, when there weren’t too many other coronavirus patients.
“I’m incredibly grateful, incredibly thankful,” he said. Gaylord is a treasure, he said, and as the child of a doctor he said has never seen such caring staff, with such big hearts.
“Impossible Dream” seemed the fitting choice of song for his departure after recovery, Baldwin said. “I sang it in 1977,” Baldwin said, when he performed in “Man of LaMancha” at Westminster School. “I didn’t have the lead but I learned that song because it is one of my favorite songs in the whole world.”
#WestHartford resident and #COVID19 patient Peter Baldwin walked out of @GaylordHealth Friday morning, recovering after being on a ventilator. But before he went home he sang “The Impossible Dream”! #WeHa pic.twitter.com/sccasToDIK
— We-Ha.Com (@WeHartford) June 19, 2020
The song speaks about patience, “striving even when your arms are weary. … It just seemed fitting, more fitting than I ever thought,” Baldwin said.
“I sing the National Anthem usually,” said Baldwin. In addition to singing at Wrigley Field, he said he’s performed at UConn and University of Hartford basketball games.
It’s still a little difficult to sing, he said. But his voice is also a little hoarse because he’s been spending lots of time on the phone with family members. “I’m a talker,” he said, laughing.
Lindsay Fawber said that although she is an ICU nurse at Hartford Hospital, where her stepfather was a patient, she still couldn’t visit him, but she had a clear understanding of what he was going through.
Baldwin is not the type of person to ever sit still, Ella Fawber said, and carpentry is a perfect job for him. But he has never stopped singing.
“Every time we have a birthday dinner in a restaurant he sings ‘Happy Birthday’ in Italian opera,” Annie Fawber said. He’s not shy, and has sung in front of celebrities like Richard Gere.
“He will truly perform anywhere, and he usually gets the whole restaurant singing,” Annie Fawber said.
“My dad is definitely larger than life,” Baldwin-Barber said. “He brings a smile to everyone he knows. … It’s been a long journey, and it means everything to have him back,” she said, as tears of joy flowed down her face.
“When Peter first came in there were a couple of things that stuck out right away,” said Katie Zimmerli, the occupational therapist assigned to Baldwin. He couldn’t lift his left arm above shoulder height, she said, which is common in those who have had serious cases of COVID-19. They’re not sure if it has something to do with the process of proning – placing patients on their stomachs to increase airflow to the lungs – or something else.
“He has made phenomenal progress in that arm,” Zimmerli said, and has also greatly increased his endurance and activity tolerance.
Physical Therapist Tim Kilbride said what’s most remarkable about the COVID-19 patients who arrive at Gaylord is “the amount of de-conditioning” that patients experience.
Recovery can be grueling, and Kilbride said that for the first couple of days, Baldwin, like most patients, was wiped out after taking just a few steps. “We help them building endurance and strength back up.”
Baldwin was a fantastic patient, not just because he worked hard to progress, his therapists said.
“Peter has been able to talk with other COVID survivors … they’re like a COVID support group on their own” since they can’t have visitors, Zimmerli said. “Peter brought so much, and they all fed off that.”
“It’s impossible not to be friends with him,” added Kilbride.
Kilbride, who before the pandemic worked with complex medical patients at Gaylord, also had a message for the public: “Be really resilient about wearing your mask and keeping your distance.”
The family presented Baldwin with a new shirt with the saying “I’ve got them anti-bodies” printed on it. He’s hoping that now that he does have antibodies, he will be able to give back with his own plasma.
Baldwin’s plans upon arriving home: “I’m going to say hi to the doggies. We have three doggies that I haven’t seen. And I’m going to have some homemade clam chowder because my wife, she’s Greek and Italian, so you know what that equals – darn good cook. And she made some homemade clam chowder.”
“Everyone has been wonderful,” Ella Fawber said Friday. She said she is so thankful to the staff at Gaylord as well as those at Hartford Hospital. “We really appreciate it.”
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