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Palm Coast Monday, Jul. 13, 2020 6 months ago

Neighbors throw party after retired doctor's 104-day battle with COVID-19

Tom Purcell was a doctor for 35 years before moving to Palm Coast. COVID-19 caused multiple organs to fail, he said.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Tom Purcell, a retired anesthesiologist, survived COVID-19. Barely.

The Palm Coast resident spent 104 days with the disease, mostly spent unconscious at local hospitals. He was told at one point that he had been hospitalized the longest of any COVID-19 patient in the United States. 

Hearing of his struggles will hopefully convince people to take the disease seriously, said Dr. Stephen Bickel, medical director for the Department of Health in Flagler County.

Purcell, 72, was interviewed for WNZF’s “Free For All Friday” on July 10. He said he had been to a family dinner in Rhode Island on March 14, and he and his wife, Helen, both contracted the disease (none of the rest of his family got it, he said).

After a mixup with his test, Purcell decided to drive himself to the emergency department at AdventHealth. He was waiting at the hospital, he said, “and that’s the last thing I remember before waking up in the middle of May in Daytona.”

He had been put in a medically induced coma due to failure of multiple organs, he later learned.

“Everybody did what they were supposed to do,” Purcell said. “It may not have been perfect, but I’m alive, and I thank God that I am.”

Purcell said he lost a lot of muscle mass, and one reason he survived may have been that he was in good shape before; he used to swim two miles a day, four times a week.

When he was finally released from the hospital, after testing negative for COVID-19 four times, his friends threw him a socially distanced welcome-home party. Neighbors have also been preparing meals for him. Purcell said his wife, Helen, was a "big help."

Patricia Albano, who first met Purcell in 2003 in New England when he helped her find her lost dog, was grateful he survived.

“I would not want him up above,” she said in a phone interview with the Palm Coast Observer. “We need him here still.”

Purcell said he is hopeful a vaccine is developed soon. He is in disbelief that some people think of COVID-19 as a “hoax.”

“It does exist,” Purcell said. “It’s a real disease. Some people think it’s just like the flu, and it’s not. It can ruin all your organs in your body, and you can basically die from it.”

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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