Wallace Lea's battle was heroic, his story inspirational.
It is a testimony to him and to his ally in the fight, Freeman Health System.
Lea, 83, contracted COVID-19 in late March, perhaps from a gathering with relatives in Mississippi, and soon afterward, was admitted to Freeman Health System for a fight that dragged on more than six weeks, two of those with Lea in a coma and much of that time on a ventilator.
Dr. Rob McNab, director of the Freeman COVID-19 unit, told the Globe that Lea was "as sick as you can be and still be barely alive.”
McNab added: "He’s gone the distance."
The doctor said something else we should pay attention to: "The reason why he got to walk out of here was because he was in fantastic health.”
There's the first lesson: "He was in fantastic health."
We know Joplin and Southwest Missouri score poorly in all those areas that have been identified as comorbidities contributing to the severity of the disease — hypertension, obesity and diabetes. That COVID-19 isn't more widespread in the region — so far — has been a blessing, given that those are the exact kinds of problems that afflict our communities. "This, too, shall pass," people say about the coronavirus, and we pray that's true, but our underlying health problems will still be there, will still need to be addressed.
Lea also offers a warning to anyone who wants to dismiss COVID-19. The disease was nothing like the flu for him, and he said the two shouldn’t be compared.
“I’ve had the flu, and the flu makes me feel lousy with achy joints, and I had none of that, so that’s a big difference,” Lea told us. “But the flu, you shake off after three or four days, and this just hangs on."
Lea’s sister and a brother-in-law both developed the illness about the same time, and both died while Lea was in the coma.
Lea's wife also believes she contracted the disease, but her experience was milder. We are grateful for that, but their story is another reminder that COVID-19 is a disease to be taken seriously even as we go about reopening businesses and trying to salvage the economy.
The doctors and nurses of Freeman who fought alongside Lea — indeed, all the area's medical professionals working at every hospital and clinic in the region — deserve the community's admiration and thanks, not just for this victory, but for their ongoing vigilance and commitment.