Brought home to die, COVID-19 patient lives


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When doctors told Joann Parr she most likely wouldn’t survive COVID-19, she wanted to return to her home, fronted with a big porch and situated near a little pond.

Parr and her husband Larry had moved into the lovely country home outside Stanton more than 20 years ago. She says it was their peaceful place of serenity.

Courtesy images of Joann and Larry Parr on their wedding day and later in their marriage.

A year ago, just before the pandemic set in, Larry Parr died. Joann Parr, now 79, has also had to lay her two sons to rest. She’s no stranger to loss.

As she lay in Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital last fall, contemplating death, she knew that meant leaving behind her daughter Julie and neighbors she says are more like extended family.

“I had come to the realization that it would be OK, but I wanted to go home,” Parr said. “The doctors told me I probably wouldn’t breathe when I got home and they took the ventilator out.”

It was September. Hospice of Michigan was brought in to make Parr’s end-of-life wishes come true.

“This might work out OK. We thought Joann might see her home and her flowers and her beautiful landscape there in Stanton, Michigan, and we thought she might do OK,” Dr. Evan Fonger, medical director for Hospice of Michigan Southwest Region, said.

Joann Parr’s Stanton-area home. (Courtesy)

A few weeks earlier, when cases had started to rise in Michigan, Parr had gone to visit her ailing brother-in-law.

“I didn’t know they had COVID right across the hall. So I come home and he passed away the next week. I went down to the funeral and there were 15 or 16 of us that come home with COVID,” Parr said.

For a week and a half, Parr was sick at home, alone. Her neighbor and her daughter finally convinced her to see a doctor.

“I knew I was going to Sheridan (Community Hospital), that’s where she was going to take me, but honestly, I don’t remember going in,” Parr said.

Doctors worked for days to stabilize her so she could be transferred to Blodgett in East Grand Rapids. That’s where she expressed her wish with a pen and paper to return home.

“The minute I walked in a saw her, I knew this young lady was going to beat COVID. I truly did,” Casey Keyser, a Hospice of Michigan nurse, said.

After taking care of his grandfather in his final days, Keyser felt a calling. At 34 years old and with a wife and four kids at home, Keyser quit his job in sales and accounting, went back to school and became a nurse with Hospice of Michigan.

Armed with that passion, Keyser has been at Parr’s side through her journey. Soon, the two will part ways but not in the normal way a hospice nurse and patient say goodbye.

Inside that country home near the pond when Parr’s breathing tube was removed, she started breathing on her own again.

“It was kind of a very surreal thing. I mean, I’m lying there before they took the ventilator out and I’m looking around listening to everybody talk and say this isn’t right,” Parr said.

Not ready to say goodbye, Parr has been breathing on her own ever since.

“It’s a combination of stubbornness, I think a little bit of divine intervention and then some pretty good medical care,” Fonger said.

“God decided that he wanted me to stay,” Parr said.

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