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NEWS | May 21, 2024

A COVID diagnosis saves a Soldier’s life and the Soldier Recovery Unit helps him recover.

By MaryTherese Griffin Army Recovery Care Program

Staff Sgt. Todd Summers has come a long way over the last few years. At the height of the pandemic, he tested positive for COVID-19. “I had just returned from a deployment to Korea in October 2020 and was on leave to see my family in Hampton, Virginia, when I thought I just had a cold,” said the active-duty Soldier from Fort Riley, Kansas.

Summers was hospitalized and like many COVID patients his lungs were affected and he was struggling to breathe. “While I was in the hospital, they put me on a ventilator, and I was like, I don’t want to go on one. You know, at that time, it was scary, and people didn’t do well with COVID on the ventilator. They didn’t survive.”

Reluctant to allow the ventilator, but knowing his condition was worsening, he listened to some sound advice.
“A nurse, an older lady, came in one night and said, you see those numbers right there? That number is supposed to be in the 90’s, and you are on extra oxygen [but only] through your nose.” His blood oxygen level was in the 70s. It was then that he knew he needed to be on the ventilator.

“The problem with that is while your body is fighting to get rid of COVID, your organs aren’t getting enough oxygen to function, and most folks don’t realize that.” And then on top of what was already a serious illness, another equally serious medical condition was discovered.

“They found a hole in my colon. I was on the ventilator for 30 days. I woke up with staples in my stomach and had an ileostomy bag.” Summers had to have three surgeries.

“It sounds strange, but they told me COVID probably saved me because I had no symptoms of issues in my colon, but when my blood became septic, they were able to find the issues.” He had home care with a nurse, and, physical therapy in his home at FT Riley for two months. He then went into the Soldier Recovery Unit at FT Riley.

“My stomach popped out like a giant pumpkin; I gained about 80 lbs, and then they told me I had diabetes. They told me it was medically induced from the feeding tube and being immobile. I’m 5 foot 6 and knew I needed to get well. I asked to [transfer] to Walter Reed. I wanted to get home closer to my family- eventually. I did get moved to the SRU at Ft Belvoir in Jan 2022.

Fast forward to 2023. Summers beat COVID but still had a long ways to go. He met with the surgeon at Ft Belvoir for the next step. “They put a balloon in my stomach to help me lose weight." In addition, his intestines were reattached and the hole in his colon was repaired. By this time he was anxious to get back in the game. “I kept saying I wanted to return to duty; I could be fixed. I want to finish this mission, which I started with the Army.” He was facing the Army Medical Board, which would mean his retirement from service, but he was not finished yet.

Today Summers says with glee: “I've dropped about 70 pounds, and I’m getting better. My diabetes numbers are dropping- I am off that [diabetes] medicine now, too. I am getting back in shape, and guess what? They said I am fit for duty!” Acknowledging the challenges in his medical journey over the last few years, Summers is most appreciative of the Army Recovery Care Program and their work to help Soldiers.

“Adaptive Reconditioning therapy was great. There were core and stretching classes, which I [still] do religiously. I walk all the time on the treadmill, too. The Army Recovery Care Program and the support has been awesome. I knew I could do it, but I couldn't do it alone.”

Summers is now awaiting orders for his new duty assignment. The father of six is thankful to his family, the medical staff, and the SRUs for their support. He offers this wisdom to “the next guy,” who might need an SRU.

“I played football in high school and college, coached too, and have six championships. I’ve always considered myself a champion. Football gave me the blueprint to learn how to win, and I carry that blueprint with me in everything I do. From being told I was too old to join the Army, to people telling me I couldn't go airborne, to the folks recently telling me I wouldn't be found fit to continue to serve- I have God and a blueprint.

I believe differently from what I hear. Believe and go after what you want, and it will happen. Don’t give up on yourself, and work toward whatever you want. The SRU will provide for you… it’s all there."