After battling COVID-19 for more than a month, Antonia Fire Protection District Capt. Bobby Chrisco received a special send-off from Mercy Hospital South last week.
Chrisco, 35, of Barnhart was discharged Nov. 10 from the south St. Louis County hospital. He was admitted Oct. 4.
Mercy South staff members lined the sidewalk outside the hospital’s main entrance cheering the firefighting veteran, who was met by Antonia Fire personnel at the end of the sidewalk, where two department firetrucks were parked with their lights on. Then, Chief Matt Krutzch gave Chrisco a ride home in an SUV.
“The fire family or emergency service family is like nothing else in the world,” Chrisco said. “It is pretty amazing. I knew he (chief) was giving me a ride home. That is all I knew. Hopefully, I don’t have to do this to get another ride home.”
Chrisco’s wife, Beth, escorted him out of the hospital to the SUV and then they were accompanied by a cavalcade of Antonia Fire vehicles to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Imperial, where he is a parishioner and his oldest son attends school.
The parish’s school children lined the grounds to celebrate Chrisco’s release from the hospital.
“I got to see all of the kids who had been praying for me and doing special stuff; that was really cool,” Chrisco said.
After the tour through the parish grounds, Chrisco went home, where he received one more surprise. In the early evening, a parade of emergency vehicles and other well-wishers drove by his house to welcome him home.
“There were probably about 50 cars and 20 different emergency vehicles that came through,” Chrisco said. “I got to sit on the porch and wave to everyone as they came through and threw cards out. That was pretty neat.”
Krutzch, who is Chrisco’s brother-in-law, said he’s happy Chrisco is better and is home, but he said he’s still worried about Chrisco’s health.
“There is still a nervous factor in the back of your mind of what may happen in a month or two,” he said. “When he is back at work, I will be satisfied. I hope he can come back in the new year. Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later.”
Chrisco had received the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, but on Sept. 26, he began to feel sick. He was admitted to Mercy South on Oct. 4 and transferred to the intensive care unit Oct. 8. He was placed on a respirator to help him breathe on Oct. 14.
“He was pretty bad,” said Dr. Raji Gottimukkula, an infectious disease consultant, who helped with Chrisco’s care. “We have seen patients like this, and we lost them. He was close to death. It was day to day.”
Beth, 39, said as dire as her husband’s condition was at times, she had faith he was going to return home to her and their three sons – Cole, 8; Jack, 1; and Drew, 4 months.
“I just couldn’t believe he would not be here for our boys,” she said. “It was just not an option. I told every doctor that and said whatever you have to do to get him better is going to be what we are going to do because he has to come home. He cannot leave our boys.”
Gottimukkula said Chrisco was taken off the respirator Oct. 27, just a few days before doctors would have likely performed a tracheotomy to help him breathe.
“When he was intubated between (Oct. 14-27), he was pretty sick,” she said. “Once he got extubated (removed from the respirator), he quickly turned around. He did a good job after extubation.”
Chrisco was transferred out of the ICU on Nov. 2, and he moved to a rehabilitation unit on Nov. 5.
Gottimukkula said Chrisco was young, had no underlying health or lung conditions, and had been vaccinated, all of which helped him survive.
“We have seen a lot of deaths among the unvaccinated patients who were similar to Bobby’s case,” she said. “(People who are vaccinated) may go through what Bobby went through, but they have a better outcome. But people who are not vaccinated and go through what Bobby went through, there is a good chance we would have lost them.”
Beth said she is vaccinated but considers it a personal choice. She also said doctors told her the vaccination helped her husband recover.
“We have to be thankful for that,” said Beth, who also said her oldest son will soon receive the vaccine.
Battalion Chief Curtis Ehrhard, who said he has known Chrisco for 18 years, said he could not sleep the night before his friend was discharged.
“Since this day is here, I feel confident the day he can rejoin the fire service is going to happen,” Ehrhard said. “He is an excellent firefighter and a close friend.”
Plenty of help
While Chrisco was in the hospital, Antonia Fire personnel looked out for his family.
Beth said crew members cut their lawn, ran errands, helped hang the family’s Christmas lights and took her husband’s car to be fixed because it had a nail in a tire.
“They have been incredible,” she said. “They provided meals and were just there for us. It is a brotherhood and second family like no other. We are fortunate.”
Krutzch said some firefighter union shops have helped the Chrisco family financially, and BackStoppers has offered to help the family as well.
“I have told (BackStoppers) not to do anything because I don’t know what the family needs,” he said. “(BackStoppers) told me if there is something they can do to help that I just have to reach out to them.”
Beth also said the staff at Mercy Hospital was incredible. She said they didn’t just help her husband recover, but they also listened to her and used her input to care for Chrisco.
“There were many long days fighting for him, scouring his charts, looking over his labs and talking to the doctors with my recommendations in knowing him as a person,” Beth said. “They know the science and numbers part of it, and we worked together. I was thankful he had doctors who listened to my recommendations.”
Chrisco said as soon as he got home he hugged his children.
“Spend time with your family; that is the most important thing,” he said, citing a lesson he learned from his battle.
Beth said her husband missed Cole’s eighth birthday, which was Oct. 24. However, her husband will be able to celebrate Jack’s second birthday Dec. 17, along with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day with his family.
“It is incredible,” Beth said. “I feel like we have gotten a second lease on life.”