O’Donnell was coming home from a business trip in late February when he discovered he had a high fever. He was unable to get a COVID test right away. But when he did, and was hospitalized, the virus had already moved quickly.
That machine is called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation device. It temporarily took over the work of Ben’s lungs. He was the third confirmed COVID-19 case in Minnesota, and the first severe one. Doctors at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center moved him to the ICU almost immediately.
“The next morning, when they asked if they could put me on a ventilator, they had to ask my wife for permission. And that’s the last thing I remember for 7 days,” O’Donnell said.
When he left the hospital 28 days later, he was still using a walker but determined to do a little more each day.
“It’s just how could I keep doing one more thing every day,” O’Donnell asked. “Could I stand up two times instead of one? Stand and be there for 30 seconds, could I do it without a walker?”
It’s the same kind of determination it took O’Donnell to get through his first Ironman Triathlon in 2017. His mantra: “No stopping, just keep moving forward.
The recovery since being released from the hospital has been slow, but steady.
“I ran for 30 seconds in mid-May, then I walked for 5 minutes. Two days ago I hiked 6 miles up and down ski hills. I’m running two 5-k’s a week and I’m working towards by the end of July being a half marathon distance,” O’Donnell said. “The mental aspect is you don’t quit, you keep moving forward even if it’s just a little bit you keep moving just that one step.”
As he trains for the next challenge, O’Donnell is doing it with a sense of gratitude to the medical staff that saved his life. He’s also looking for a way to help others.
“How can I help those who didn’t have the fortune that I had, that’s why I changed my focus to fundraising,” O’Donnell says. “Nobody should go what I went through. But if they do, they should have access to the care that they need. If I can help provide that care, whether its providing masks for health care workers who are exposed everyday, or helping buy ventilators for small clinics globally so if someone does get sick they can be taken care of, I’ll do that.”
One way is donating his blood which was high in anti-bodies after his bout with COVID-19. Another is through Ironman’s fundraising arm called, Ironaid. O’Donnell hopes to raise money for COVID-19 relief. He would like to help buy ventilators for smaller hospitals and protective gear for health care workers.
You can find more information about his effort at: ironmanfoundation.donordrive.com
So far Ben has reached $3355 of his $10,000 goal.