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Perham man makes miraculous recovery from COVID-19 after about 100 days on ventilator

On Oct. 17, 2020, Ray Schmitz was outside picking up leaves when he suddenly grew exhausted, so he went back into his house to relax. The next day, he decided to finish what he started. By the afternoon, everything started to go downhill.

Over the past six months, Ray Schmitz has done plenty of physical therapy to improve his mobility, including the squats he demonstrated at the Therapy Center in Detroit Lakes on Monday, May 10. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

In a second, a man's entire life changed. Ray Schmitz, 87, was born and raised in Perham. On Oct. 17, 2020, Ray was outside picking up leaves when he suddenly grew exhausted, so he went back into his house to relax. The next day, he decided to finish what he started. By the afternoon, everything started to go downhill.

Ray went to sit down on his couch but fell backwards onto it instead. His family insisted he go to the hospital, where he was then diagnosed with COVID-19. Soon after, he was transferred to Fargo for treatment, where he was put on a ventilator.

"I had terrible hallucinations," Ray said. One time, he hallucinated that there were two big piles of lumber on either side of his bed. He dreamt that people rolled him onto the lumber and jumped on him then rolled him to the other side of lumber and jumped on him again.

"I was just screaming, 'It hurts! It hurts! Why are you doing this?'" Ray continued, "I actually prayed one time I would die; I really did."

Ray spent about 100 days on the ventilator. Several of his family members didn't think he was going to make it. However, Ray was eventually taken off the ventilator and began his journey to recovery.


While he didn't lose his memory from before his diagnosis, the effects of COVID-19 Ray experienced were much more physical. He couldn't use his legs, and his right arm was completely paralyzed. "My legs were like two little pieces of spaghetti," Ray said.

After about another 100 days, Ray was moved to Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes to take part in their Post COVID-19 Rehabilitation Program. This program was created to help those struggling with the long-term effects of COVID-19.

According to Troy Schmitz, a Perham resident, outpatient rehabilitation services manager at Essentia and Ray's grandson, the program's goal is to make a series of evaluations in order to determine the needs of specific patients. "With someone like my grandpa, it was really easy," Troy said. "We literally had to work on everything."

Schmitz said that the process can be a bit more complicated for people who are living a more difficult life after getting sick yet can't identify how. The Essentia program measures strength, endurance, balance, vitals and more. From those test results, Essentia determines what the patient needs to work on.

For example, if they find someone is struggling with strength in their upper extremities, the program would work to strengthen that body part.

"It can look so different for everyone," Troy said. "Because COVID has been so different for everyone. It's not been uniform across the board." Patients who suffered with all different severities of COVID-19 may be suffering with its long-term effects.

Initially, the first goal of Ray's treatment was to help him stand again. They then moved on to helping him sit down. Afterward, they began helping him relearn how to walk by stepping a certain distance before taking a break. According to Troy, all of this is important for building strength and endurance.


Ray Schmitz shows how he's able to walk again at the Therapy Center in Detroit Lakes on Monday, May 10. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Ray is now able to walk again with the assistance of a walker. Ray believes he was able to recover with the help of the program because of the attitude he held. He never said no to any physical therapy, and he refused to put any treatment off. Ray said you can't improve physically without your mind in the right attitude.

"Get the right attitude and work hard," he advised anyone who may be struggling in the same way he did.

Troy suggests to anyone struggling with the after-effects of COVID-19 to reach out to the Essentia Health nearest to them. According to him, the goal of the Post COVID-19 Rehabilitation Program is to help patients return to the quality of life they were living prior to becoming sick. Prior to becoming sick himself, Ray spent most of his life in Perham.

He attended St. Henry's school for eight years. He played sports, including football, when he was younger. Their senior year, his team was undefeated. Ray then attended St. John's University before returning to work in the family business.

Once he turned 63, he retired with his wife, Jean Schmitz. The two then traveled around the country and spent quite some time in Florida, where they made many friends.

Now, Ray enjoys hunting and fishing in his spare time. He was disappointed to miss hunting in 2020 and fishing this summer, but he hopes to be able to do both again soon.

Ray finally returned home in Perham on Thursday, May 13, 2021.


"All the prayers and well-wishes throughout the community have just been beyond (great). I can't say enough about all that," Jean, Ray's wife, said. "That's the one thing that got us all through this." Ray agrees that prayer has a lot to do with his recovery.

If you or anyone you know is currently struggling with the long-term effects of COVID-19, feel free to contact Essentia’s rehabilitation services director, Joan Jeanetta, at 218-786-5366 or Joan.Jeanetta@EssentiaHealth.org.

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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