BLACKFORD COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — On Friday, Aug. 28, Blackford High School’s athletic director and baseball coach, Tony Uggen was getting ready to leave for a football game at Eastern High School when he started coughing.
“I jokingly yelled out to my secretary that ‘I’ve got COVID. I’m going to be out for two weeks,'” said Uggen. “She said something back like ‘oh heck, you’re not.'”
Little did he know that once he got home from that game later that night, he’d find out his stepson tested positive for the virus.
“I had just went to the game with a 70-year-old and two 80-year-old’s in the same car so my first thought was if my stepson has it, I probably got it and I probably just gave it to them,” said Uggen.
Uggen’s been the athletic director for eight years at Blackford. Prior to this, he coached baseball at Northfield for 20 years, winning state titles in 2001 and 2012.
He ended up getting tested for COVID the next day and found out he was positive on Aug. 31. One of the three people Uggen went to the game with also tested positive. Fortunately, that person never experienced any symptoms.
Uggen wasn’t as lucky— his symptoms included his cough, a fever that would occasionally spike and chills.
“Those [chills] were pretty bad to the point where it’s like I need five or six blankets. I was just literally shaking,” said Uggen.
Things went from bad to worse on Sept. 3 when Uggen was taking a shower and had trouble breathing, causing him to gasp for air. That day he went to IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital and found out he had COVID-related pneumonia in all five lobes of his lungs.
Uggen said he with his job he used to walk anywhere between six and 14 miles a day and considered himself to be in good health, despite being a type II diabetic.
Throughout his battle, he has spent 26 total days in the hospital, including nine days in the ICU.
Those 26 days in the hospital were not consecutive, as he was able to go home for some time in between before feeling worse again. Uggen said his time in the hospital was extremely lonely.
“It was almost a blessing to just have the nurse come in because you might see somebody three hours a day,” said Uggen. “So for 21 hours a day for 26 days I was by myself.”
Throughout his stay in the hospital, Uggen fortunately didn’t have to go on a ventilator, but he did need oxygen. He also never lost his taste of smell, but said everything tasted salty.
“I was basically the first 21 days in the bed 98% or 99% of time, I had a toilet chair that was literally three feet from my bed, and with all the oxygen stuff so literally my range of roaming was my bed and three feet from my bed.”
To pass time Uggen video chatted family and friends, however he said at one point talking for more than five minutes was exhausting.
To update everyone with his progress, he started sharing his battle on social media. While he’s received some negative comments, Uggen said the support from others has helped him get through this battle. He also hopes sharing his story will help others.
“That support, a lot of thoughts and prayer from people all over the place. It’s great to have that support and people know that got your back and rooting for you.”
He also frequently shares posts from the Survivor Core’s Facebook page.
The page shares posts from people who’ve been fighting the COVID for a significant period of time and can’t get rid of it, called “long haulers.”
“Some are like in isolation for 200 days,” said Uggen. “It’s just sad to read what people are going through so after reading that I kind of feel like you know I’m really not that bad.”
Uggen keeps detailed notes of everything he’s gone through since August. He said since he’s been home from the hospital he’s seen “crazy improvement.”
“When I first got sick and went to hospital, me and you having this conversation I would be coughing like crazy right now and we’d be done and I would be so exhausted after 10 minutes of just typing anything I would be done.”
However, he still has a long way to go until his lungs are back to normal. When asked to rank how normal he feels on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, he rated himself a four. He said it still feels like his lungs have to work hard.
“I haven’t driven a car, since Aug. 28. I’ve been outside on trips maybe five times in the last 50 days,” said Uggen. “The weird part is just driving the hospitals, as depressing as that can be was actually great because I could actually see the outdoors.”
He said he’s “chomping at the bit” to get back to work and hopes he can go back sometime in November for a few hours. He currently works from home.
Work-wise, Uggen’s able to work for about three to five hours a day remotely. He talks with his secretary and Blackford junior high’s athletic director to help organize things as best as possible.
He also updates Blackford’s social media accounts and scores on the Max Prep’s website. He’s able to live stream the events through the Blackford Sports Network YouTube page.
His biggest piece of advice to people is to take the virus seriously and wear a mask.
“That’s what people need to understand it’s not just about me, it’s about protecting everybody,” said Uggen. “An article I read said the masks will help 17% reduce your chances. I know 17%, is not very much, but if that would have prevented me from going through what I’m doing right now, I’ll wear 10 masks,” said Uggen.