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Fargo man survives 24 days in a coma from COVID-19

Tim Rosendahl, 67, overcame a bout with the coronavirus that shut down his liver and kidneys, and gave him double pneumonia. He was in a medically induced coma for 24 days. Now he's working to walk again without a walker.

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Tim Rosendahl, of Fargo, credits the prayers of his many friends for his survival of a bout with the coronavirus that left him hospitalized for almost half a year in Florida, where he spends his winters. Patrick Springer / The Forum

FARGO — Tim Rosendahl sensed that something was wrong — very wrong — so he excused himself from his daughter’s wedding reception. Before leaving, he handed his credit card to his daughter and told her to tip the wait staff.

But Rosendahl recalls little else of that day. The memory that stands out most clearly is the dance he shared with his youngest daughter.

“I remember that distinctly,” the 67-year-old said. “I remember nothing else about the wedding.”

He wouldn’t realize it until later, but Rosendahl was just coming down with the symptoms of COVID-19 at the wedding.

A few days later, his condition got much worse. “I’m not getting any air,” he recalls telling his girlfriend. “We have to go to the emergency room.”

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A Fargo native, Rosendahl now divides his time between his hometown and Florida, where he worked for many years as a chef. His girlfriend drove him to the hospital in Key Largo.

After examining him, the emergency room doctors concluded that his condition was serious, so they summoned an ambulance to transfer him to Baptist Hospital in Miami, a major medical center 70 miles away.

His condition was dire. He had double pneumonia as well as kidney and liver failure. “They told my kids another hour and I’d be gone.”

Doctors intubated Rosendahl, placed him on a ventilator as well as a kidney dialysis machine and induced a medical coma. He would remain comatose for 24 days, most of the month of March.

“At that time it seemed like things would keep snowballing,” said Ashley Rodgers, Rosendahl’s oldest daughter.

During that period, doctors gave Rosendahl’s family a grim prognosis.

“The doctor sort of hung his head and said your dad is very sick,” Rodgers said. The doctor "basically wouldn’t give us a ray of hope."

"We’re doing what we can,” the doctor told them, “but it doesn’t look very good.”

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'Where am I?'

When he woke up in the intensive care unit, Rosendahl focused his eyes and saw his three children gathered around his bed.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“You’re in Miami now,” they answered.

He had given his oldest son, Brandon, authority to make medical decisions on his behalf. Brandon refused to allow a “do not resuscitate order” for his father.

“My dad’s a fighter,” Brandon Rosendahl told his father’s nurses. “We’re going to do everything we can to save his life.”

While comatose, Rosendahl suffered a stroke. “My left leg lay there like a piece of Jello,” he said. “My left leg was gone.”

Rosendahl has no recollection of his time in the coma. No dreams survived in his memory. The drug used to induce his paralytic coma, so he wouldn’t fight the ventilator or rip out any of the seven tubes inserted into his body, was fentanyl, an opioid far more potent than heroin.

His medical team included more than 20 doctors, including many specialists. “There was a specialist working on every inch of my body. They saved my life.”

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But his first month in the hospital, most of it in a coma, marked only the beginning of his medical saga.

Rosendahl would spend 5½ months in six Florida hospitals before he was finally ready to go home. He was vaccinated against COVID-19 while recuperating in long-term care.

Now back in Fargo, he is continuing physical therapy. His lungs have cleared, and he has regained kidney and liver function, but continues to get fatigued from only minor exertions, such as climbing a flight of stairs in his Fargo townhouse.

“I get very winded,” Rosendahl said. “I get exhausted. There’s many things like that.”

Rosendahl is a member of a post-COVID-19 recovery group at Sanford Health.

“He’s a zero to 60 kind of guy,” Rodgers said, describing her father’s impatience to recover. “He doesn’t want to see the middle. He would like to see the end.”

The trauma of his severe illness left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, which in turn has given him an attention deficit. He’s also more forgetful.

Recently, Rosendahl had surgery on his hip to remove bone growth believed to have formed while his left leg was oddly positioned during his coma. An orthopedic surgeon chipped away at the bone and a radiologist treated the area to prevent regrowth.

“I’ve never heard of a bone growing out of a bone,” Rosendahl said.

Post-COVID life

Rosendahl is coming to terms with his post-COVID life. He’s frustrated that he can’t do all the things he could do before his illness.

His decades of working as a chef — he ran Rosey’s Bistro & Bar on Broadway, among many other engagements — acclimated him to a fast pace.

“He’s definitely not a lazy person,” Rodgers said. “He’s always up and around. Always moving.”

But Rosendahl’s brush with mortality has changed his outlook.

“I’m using this opportunity to be a better person,” he said. He’s grateful for the many friends who prayed for him to recover, and credits those prayers for his survival.

“God and prayers saved my life,” he said. He’s trying to be a better person, be kind to everybody. “Put a smile on people’s faces,” he said.

Word had spread that his condition was grave, and many of his old friends were pleasantly surprised to see him up and around, albeit moving with the aid of a walker because of his hip.

“Thank God you’re alive,” he said, describing the reactions. “We heard there’s no way you could come out.”

Once healed from the surgery, with more physical therapy, he hopes to walk again unassisted. Because his left leg remains paralyzed, he also gets around on a hand-powered tricycle, which he describes as like climbing a ladder with only your arms.

One of his Fargo doctors told him, “Tim, you’re a miracle,” Rosendahl said. “Am I 100%? Absolutely not. I’m extremely lucky to be alive.”

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Tim Rosendahl, a 67-year-old Fargo man, has a paralyzed left leg, which he believes resulted from being in a medically induced coma for almost a month when he was hospitalized with COVID-19. Special to The Forum

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