'I didn't know if I was going to see my family again:' Keyser couple recounts their battle with COVID

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Julie Beth Bryan and Michael Kranik pose with their dog shortly after Michael got home from the hospital. Both fought COVID just before Christmas, but Kranik's pneumonia sent him to the hospital.
This photo of Julie Beth Bryan and Michael Kranik was taken in happier times, before the couple found themselves battling COVID-19.

By Barbara High

bhigh@newstribune.info

Tribune Staff Writer

KEYSER - With COVID numbers soaring in the past few months, it has been a concern for many. Finally seeing a dip in those numbers recently has put some more at ease.

For many, however, these numbers weren’t just numbers; they represented someone they knew and loved who had battled the virus, or perhaps lost that battle.

Julie Beth Bryan remembers two of the numbers really well - they weren’t just a statistic to her. They represented her very life and the life of someone she loves and almost lost.

Bryan and her boyfriend Michael Kranik recently shared their experience with COVID-19 with the News Tribune.

Bryan recalls that she was going about her life when she began to feel like she had a sniff neck.

“It just didn’t seem to ever go away,” she said. After some time, she went to her doctor, who tested her for COVID. The result was not what she had expected. Her test results informed her she was indeed positive. By that time she had began to develop body aches, congestion, sore throat, diarrhea, and then the loss of taste and smell. It was a quick onset of some of the most common symptoms.

She stayed home and tried to heal on her own with her boyfriend by her side.

Within a few days, however, Kranik began to feel tired. “He was just sleeping a lot,” said Bryan. “He seemed tired all the time and developed some diarrhea.

“One morning Michael went and took a shower and came out to help me to with Christmas cards,” said Bryan. “He sat at the kitchen table with me so we could work on the cards. I looked over at him and his lips were blue and he began to slump over,” she said.

Bryan said it didn’t seem that Michael knew what he was doing. “He looked at me and said ‘call an ambulance,’” she said.

Bryan rushed to call an ambulance for her boyfriend as he continued to slump over the table. Michael later said he remembers thinking to himself as he struggled to breath while slumped over the table, that he was dying.

Kranik was immediately rushed by ambulance to WVU Potomac Valley Hospital. “I remember shoving his phone charger and phone in his pocket,” said Bryan. “I wanted to be able to be in contact with him.”

Kranik arrived at the hospital, where he was quickly tested for COVID. The test later came back as positive. He had other tests performed and was checked out thoroughly while Bryan sat waiting nervously for news - news that came quickly and wasn’t good.

Kranik had bilateral pneumonia and had two blood clots in each of his legs. He was immediately admitted and put on oxygen. Kranik’s oxygen level was in the 70s.

For three days Bryan never heard from Michael. “All I got was updates from the hospital,” she said. “It was so scary not to be able to talk to him.”

When she did hear from the hospital, Bryan was notified that one of the clots had moved to Kranik’s lung. Things were not looking the greatest for her boyfriend.

Bryan asked if she could talk to him, and was told they could try by tablet later. She informed them that she put his charger in his pocket for his phone and he had his phone with him.

“They told me they were so busy with COVID patients, but someone would try to go in and charge it when they got some time,” said Bryan. “Finally a nurse was able to do so.”

Bryan was finally able to speak with Michael, as he struggled for air. “It was just a relief to hear his voice for a second,” she said.

At one point it was discussed life flighting Kranik to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown to be placed on a ventilator. Kranik said he definitely did not want to go that route, explaining that his sister Gina Workman had said to always “keep his feet on the ground”

His other siblings, Susie Clark and Misty Smith, as well as Workman, spoke about their concerns. “My family and my mom and stepfather were all involved in my care,” Kranik explained. “ The concern was that for half of those that go on to ventilators, they never came off. They were truly concerned at that point,” he said.

With the help of Dr. Charles Bess, who worked with a doctor from Ruby Memorial, it was arranged so he did not have to be transferred and was able to stay at Potomac Valley.

Kranik’s road to recovery was going to be a tough one, however,  and he was put into the ICU unit. Already on oxygen, he was required to take blood thiner injections regularly, and had to wear a Bipap machine. Xrays and sonograms were done every other day,” he said.

“I was so scared,” said Kranik. “I just layed there and was so weak, every bit of my energy was just to try and take my next breath. I literally was struggling for every breath I got,” he said.

“I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to make it.”

Kranik said as he layed there thinking that he wasn’t coming out of the hospital ever again, he prayed. “I had everyone praying for me,” said Kranik. “My family, pastor and my entire church.” So Kranik continued to fight to breathe.

Breathe he did, and slowly he began to improve. He was eventually removed from ICU and placed into another room. Little by little he began to regain some strength.

“I remember when physical therapy came in and worked with me to sit up and to eventually stand again. My oxygen levels began to improve and 15 days after going in, Dr. Bess walked into my room and asked me if I was ready to go,” he said. “I remember asking him go where?”

Kranik said Bess told him he could go home if he felt able to be discharged.

“I was so relieved,” he said.  “I was so happy at the thought of going home.”

Fifteen days after being admitted and 25 pounds lighter, Kranik went home to be with Bryan. Equipped with oxygen, a ton of medicine, and requiring a home health care nurse, Kranik finally got to leave the hospital on Dec 15.

Kranik required home health care for three more weeks. He was also required to wear oxygen 24 hours a day. His new meds included steroids, blood thinners, and about ten other pills a day.

Kranik continued to fight his way back.

Today Kranik says he is doing better, although he still feels weak.

“I still struggle to breathe and have to take my time trying to do things,” he said. “But I am home and I am recovering, and I know it will take time.”

Bryan said it was such a scary time, not knowing whether he was going to make it or not. Seeing him home and recovering was an answer to their prayers.

Kranik said he is truly grateful to have a second chance.

“I didn’t know if I was going to see my family again or if I was ever going to come home,” he said.

“Now here I am recovering, slowly recovering, but still recovering.”