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Magoffin native, 90, survives COVID-19

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Doctors cannot explain how well 90-year-old Ray Gullett has recovered from COVID-19. They can’t say how he or his other five family members who also came down with it avoided the ventilator. He just laughs and says it’s the resilient Magoffin blood in their veins.

Gullett, a retired pipefitter, and his wife (who passed away several years ago) were both from Magoffin County, Lick Creek and Middle Fork, to be exact, and relocated to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they raised their family. Until last year, he had never even had an IV. 

“I don’t know how I pulled that one off. It’s just good clean living, maybe,” Gullett laughed. “Well, I’ve smoked. Drank a little bit of moonshine.”

Gullett, who has asbestos lung disease and has been on oxygen for five years, lives independently and was home on March 29 when he tried to stand up and almost fainted, which he later found out was because his oxygen level dropped too low.

He didn’t have a cough, fever, or any of the usual symptoms, but he had not felt the best for a couple of days.  

“He told me a couple days prior he didn’t feel really well and he’d say, ‘I don’t know, I just don’t feel right,’ so I didn’t know what was going on,” Gullett’s daughter, Shawn, said.

When he fell, he called his children, who had just been at his house 45 minutes before, and they called for an ambulance. Once at the UM Hospital Ann Arbor ER, he was automatically tested for the coronavirus and went straight to respiratory ICU, where he spent 17 days, but never on a ventilator. 

About his hospital stay, he said, “You’re just kind of ignored. They feed you, but they’re in and out and they don’t spend no time with you. You’re sort of out of sight, out of mind.”

All he had to contact his family was a little flip-top phone, Gullett said.

“I couldn’t see them, and they couldn’t see me,” he said.

Toward the end of his hospital stay, one of the nurses set up a FaceTime call for them, but otherwise, he had little contact with anyone.

“The nurses have on all of this PPE and you really can only see their eyes,” Shawn said, who was also hospitalized with COVID-19. “It’s really lonely.”

While lonely, he said the hospital staff treated him very well.

“With all of their suits and protective gear, you could tell they would rather be waiting on someone with a bad cold, but they were really nice and treated me good. They were all wonderful people,” Gullett said.

While in the hospital, his family kept it from him that five more of them had tested positive: Phillip Gullett (son, no hospitalization), Mary Gullett (daughter-in-law, hospitalized), Shawn Gullett Naylor (daughter, hospitalized and history of asthma), Dirk Naylor (son-in-law, no hospitalization), Troy Naylor (grandson, no hospitalization).

When asked how he handled finding out they had kept something from him, he just laughed and said, “Ah, little things like that I won’t hold against them.”
Gullett’s son, Phillip, who toughed it out at home, said he didn’t have any symptoms on Saturday night and by Sunday morning he felt like he was going to die.

“You lose your smell and your taste,” Phillip said. “And you’re just so weak. It would take me half an hour to put on two socks and a pair of pants.”

He didn’t leave the house for six weeks.

“It’s one thousand times worse than the flu. I’ve had pneumonia and there’s no comparison,” Phillip said.

Neither Shawn nor Phillip could take Gullett to the doctor for follow-up appointments since they had also had the virus, but thankfully two of their sisters did not get it, so they were able to help.

“I can’t imagine living away from Dad, especially right now,” Shawn said. “We all stick together pretty tight.”

When asked how he’s doing now, Gullett said he’s doing pretty good and “can’t complain.”

“Dad’s always said you can do anything once you put your mind to it and he put his mind to it,” Shawn said. 

She said the doctors are baffled by Gullett.

“The doctor told me, ‘We can’t figure your dad out. It goes against everything we see,’” Shawn said. “They’re going to have to have something better than COVID to get rid of us hillbillies.”
 

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Heather Oney

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