Hamilton

'He beat it. That's a miracle:' 45-year-old chicken farmer comes home after beating COVID-19

Mike VanNetten, a 45-year-old farmer from Ontario's Norfolk County who's known around town as Chicken, is back home after spending more than two months in hospital battling COVID-19.

Known as Chicken, Mike VanNetten spent 83 days in hospital including at Hamilton General

Norfolk County chicken farmer Mike VanNetten, 45, has returned home after a long battle against COVID-19. (Sarah VanNetten)

For the first time in a long time, Mike VanNetten is waking up in his own bed at home.

The 45-year-old farmer from the outskirts of Ontario's Norfolk County is known around town as Chicken. He spent 83 days in hospital fighting COVID-19, and finally walked out on June 30.

"I couldn't be happier with the way things are going," VanNetten said in a phone interview on Monday afternoon.

His wife, Sarah, was also on the call.

"He beat it. That's a miracle in and of itself."

VanNetten with his wife as he leaves Hamilton General Hospital on June 30. He spent more than 80 days in hospital recovering from COVID-19. (Submitted by Hamilton Health Sciences)

On April 3, he had what resembled a bad cold.

Five days later, he was in the hospital. Soon after, he was put on an extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine in Hamilton General Hospital's intensive-care unit. It's the most aggressive form of life-support and requires a whole team of trained workers.

"Mike is a true success story," said Dr. Craig Ainsworth, a Hamilton General cardiologist and intensivist, a physician who provides special care for critically ill patients.

"The staff and physicians who cared for Mike and patients like him work very hard every day for moments like this."

VanNetten was otherwise healthy and followed pandemic-era precautions without complaint. He's also one of the younger patients who have wound up in the ICU.

VanNetten said he doesn't remember the first half of his hospital stay since he wasn't awake for most of it. It was especially hard for his family. The other half of his time there was full of hard work.

"Especially the first time just being able to try to get myself up. I just remember the sweat pouring off me and thinking, 'Man, am I going to be able to do this again?'  Thank goodness my wife and these physio people were hounding me every day."

But hard work isn't anything new for VanNetten — and that's what has made slowing down such a challenge as he continues to recover from home.

It started as soon as he left the hospital parking lot.

"I'm never usually in the passenger seat and I got to just sit and watch the drive, watch the crops, watch people on golf courses."

Sarah VanNetten, with Mike, says the first 40 days he was in the hospital were hard to watch because he wasn't awake. (Sarah VanNetten)

His reunion with his four children was special. They only saw him twice when he was in the hospital and he only could speak on one of the visits.

"Getting to hug and kiss them meant the world to me," VanNetten said.

While he was recovering, VanNetten's family took over his work on the farm.

"I'm pretty lucky; in the barn, my wife and kids and dad, they take care of the chickens pretty good. They're not letting me get in there," he said.

"A year ago, I would've never thought these kids would be able to do what they do ... you always worry about your kids and I tell ya, they grew up in a hurry."

Mike and Sarah VanNetten, shown with their children and pets, celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in March. (Sarah VanNetten)

VanNetten thanked his family friends, community and hospital staff for all their help.

He has oxygen at home and still goes to outpatient appointments to continue his progress. Sarah said he lost more than 50 pounds in hospital.

But she thinks it'll all make him even stronger.

"His goal is to be back to what he was before and maybe even a little better," she said.

"The last three months have changed the rest of our lives."

With files from Samantha Craggs

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