HALEYVILLE - Tommy Gentle has been jokingly referred to for years as the Mayor of Dime Road, voicing strong opinions over various community issues and projects. He now has a new title, one given to him by his family: “Our COVID Miracle”.
Tommy’s story, as unsettling as it is, is really a story of hope, faith, courage and thankfulness--traits that keep him fighting day after day against the virus, as well as renewing the strength of his supportive family in almighty God, in Whom they daily depend.
Tommy has not had COVID for very long when one looks at it by the calendar. But to his family, it seems like a much longer period--one filled with emotional highs and lows. The second week in September is when Tommy’s bout with COVID-19 began, his wife Linda said.
She recalled that Tommy came in from mowing grass and was feeling bad, claiming at first it was just an allergy.
“I told him, ‘I think you are sick. You need to go to the doctor,’” Linda said. “He said, ‘No, it’s just an allergy. I’ve been out in the grass and weeds.’”
However, Tommy’s sickness grew worse in the next several days. The symptoms were similar to an allergy, but included headache and fatigue.
“Each day, he felt a little bit worse,” Linda said.
By Sept. 19, Tommy’s condition had worsened to the point he wanted to be tested for COVID, Linda said.
That first test came back positive, and the doctor placed him immediately on a Z-pack (Zithromax antiobiotic), as well as gave him immunity fighting vitamins such as Zinc, D-3 and C. However, Tommy’s condition continued to worsen to the point, these vitamins did not help. In fact, his condition became so bad, including difficulty in breathing, that Linda had to call an ambulance to their home on Dime Road.
Tommy was transported to Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville where he was treated then transferred to Athens-Limestone Medical Center on Sept. 24.
After about 1 1/2 weeks at Athens-Limestone, Tommy was sent home by the physician on call while his usual physician was out of town, family members said.
“Why that doctor sent him home, I don’t know because he was still not in good shape,” said Linda.
After less that 48 hours, Tommy began having more breathing issues, so Linda had to again call an ambulance to their home, and he was transported to Lakeland for stabilization.
This time, Tommy was sent to the medical intensive care unit at Huntsville Hospital, where he spent 12 hours before being moved to a step-down unit, where he stayed for over a week.
Tommy was then transported to Restore Rehab, but became sick and had to be transported back to Huntsville Hospital, where he was admitted and remained for another 1 1/2 weeks.
From there, Tommy was transported to Limestone Rehab where he has been since.
Tommy was scheduled as of press time to come home this past Friday, Nov. 20, and begin his journey down another long road, as he fights toward recovery, just as he has fought to improve at the rehab center.
“I would really appreciate the prayers since this is going to be a big week for me,” Tommy posted on Facebook before being released to go home.
Looking back, Linda noted that Tommy went by the book when it came to wearing facial coverings, using sanitation products and going through every measure possible to keep from contracting the COVID-19 virus.
“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” Linda said.
Linda had her own bout with COVID during Tommy’s health struggles. After Tommy was first taken to Lakeland, Linda had a fever and also felt bad, so she was given a COVID test, which came back positive.
“(The doctor) immediately gave me two steroids and zinc, and I hardly had any symptoms after that,” Linda recalled.
Linda has a strong message for anyone who may feel they are getting sick, whether or not they suspect COVID. They should go to the doctor and get a COVID test.
“I think that helped my case,” said Linda. “Tommy had waited over a week. It had a pretty good hold on him before he went to the hospital, and it affected his lungs.”
Tommy has been dealing with severe pneumonia along with battling COVID in just the past few weeks, according to family members.
After Linda tested positive, she was quarantined for two weeks, all the while not being able to have any in-person visits with her husband due to strict regulations limiting visitation at medical facilities.
This made the struggle for Tommy’s family that much more difficult.
“That’s what’s so bad about this,” Linda said. “I know the doctors and nurses did the best they could, but you have to just take their word for what is going on, what’s happening. You cannot see it for yourself and make your own judgments about things.”
The Gentles’s son, Chris, noted, “They don’t always understand what’s abnormal for a particular patient. We had one incident where something went wrong with him and the hospital staff did not pick up on it because they didn’t know it, but we picked it up by just talking to him on the phone. We could tell in his voice something was wrong.
“That’s another side effect of not having family in there,” Chris pointed out. “That works against the patient by not having family close by.”
“It’s just terrible,” added Linda, “because you really don’t know what is going on, and Tommy was in bad shape for two or three days anyway when he first went into the hospital.”
Recently, the family did not have a good anniversary to mark, but rather the 54th day that Tommy has been away from his home, his family and his friends.
“He is a very sociable person,” Chris said. “He likes to be around people. Isolating him in a room has been hard.”
During Linda’s time in quarantine, Chris and the Gentles’ daughter, Elizabeth, pitched in and did work in the yard and countless other things to help their mother and father. Elizabeth helped with buying groceries, as well as communicating with both the medical staff and Linda about her dad’s condition and what was needed.
Keeping busy and on task with the situation is what helps Elizabeth to cope with the situation.
“You just get up and do it,” she said. “You don’t think about it. You just do what you have to do to help your family and hope that you’re making the best decisions possible.
“When mom had COVID, Chris and I had to work together 50/50 in making decisions about dad’s care and about (mom’s) care,” Elizabeth said. “We had her on one side of the state. We had dad on the other.
“I was lucky I got to see him a couple of times. I would intercept the ambulance in the ambulance bay and get to see him. When he was sent to the emergency room at Huntsville Hospital, I was with him all day while he was there,” she continued.
“There is no way to explain what it’s like to see someone that sick who is your family member, who you love so much. You know this person one way, and you see them at a hospital being this (other) way, and there is absolutely nothing you can do for them. It is just sickening,” Elizabeth pointed out.
“COVID-19 robs a person of who they are, absolutely strips them down. Dad goes from bush hogging, cutting grass, weed eating, taking mom out to lunch, doing all the things he loves to do...It’s literally like being in a car going 100 miles an hour and slamming into a brick wall. Your life stops. Everything you know stops,” Elizabeth added.
As sick as Tommy has been, the family has relied first upon God, who has answered their prayers, leaving Tommy in the hands of capable physicians, especially at Huntsville Hospital for the top-notch care they gave him and at Lakeland Hospital, where his stabilization was crucial before he could be transferred.
“I didn’t actually think he would make it out of the hospital he was so bad,” said Elizabeth. “It was minute to minute with him.”
Looking down the road, 54 days later, the family cites Tommy’s situation as being “amazing” considering all he has been through regarding COVID-19.
“He is kind of our little Thanksgiving miracle,” Elizabeth pointed out.
COVID is not just a physical illness, but one that also affects people mentally, Chris said.
“There were some real struggles with him because it kind of did knock him back mentally,” he said. “He was having trouble coping, which caused us to have a little more trouble coping.”
Chris noted that prayer is the number one thing that has gotten their family through this ordeal thus far, as they realize Tommy still has a long road ahead.
“We just prayed that his physical health would get better and his mental and emotional health more so,” Chris added.
When a loved one spends so much time isolated from his or her family, they may confuse days and nights.
Family members continue their reliance upon God as Tommy comes home to a loving family who will help in healing many of his mental and emotional wounds.
“I try very hard not to be a worrier,” Chris said. “I just turn that over to the good Lord. I just let Him handle it.”
Tommy doesn’t just have the compassion of his own personal family, but a network of other family members and friends through his life and on social media. His job as manager of truck terminals with headquarters in Texas and in Alabama for many years helped him build a great network of contacts and
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.