‘Don’t give up hope’: COVID-19 survivor returns home after 49 days at Sarasota Memorial Hospital


SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Something as simple as a phone charger made a big difference as 77-year-old Dr. Steve Hefler beat the odds and survived his battle with COVID-19.

“Our neighbors are lined on both sides of the streets with signs saying, ‘Welcome home miracle man’, ‘Welcome home Steve’,” Dr. Hefler said of his return Friday to his home in North Venice after 49 days at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

After 25 days in the ICU – many of the them hooked up to ventilator – Dr. Hefler told 8 On Your Side he does feel like a miracle man.

“Yeah, I feel like I was given one more chance by the lady upstairs,” he said.

The longtime pediatrician and Navy veteran, as well as his family, tell 8 On Your Side they are forever grateful for the care he received at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

“There are angels working in the ICU,” Hefler’s wife Marcia said.

Within 48 hours of being admitted at the end of March for COVID-19, Dr. Hefler ended up on life support.

“We were able to get a few texts back and forth for the first day or two that he was there,” his son Jon Hefler said. “All of a sudden we stopped getting anything and his cell phone completely died.”

Jon Hefler said a nurse went home and brought back a phone charger that made it possible for him to FaceTime with his dad.

“We just started telling him, ‘you’re gonna fight, fight through this even though you can’t respond to us,” he said. “We know you’re completely sedated. We know you can hear us and we’re not gonna say goodbye and somehow he fought back from that first brink of death.”

“I remember zero about my time in the ICU,” Dr. Hefler said.

He has since learned from his wife those phone calls may have helped.

“Every time they called my blood pressure would go up, so you know they talk about even if a person is comatose you really should keep talking to them,” Hefler said.

While seeing the impact communication had during Hefler’s battle with COVID-19, his family started a fundraising campaign to donate phone chargers to hospitals across the country that don’t have spare ones for patients in their ICUs.

Dr. Hefler’s son said he’s spoken with several hospitals that say there’s a need for the phone charges to make sure patients can connect with their families.

“If this little extra lifeline can help save a few more people or ease the passing of those who are not gonna make it than it’s worth doing,” he said.

Their first donation went to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, but he said they’ve also sent phone chargers to Tampa General Hospital.

The family has partnered with an organization called C.H.A.R.G.E., which stands for Communication When Hospitalized Alone Requires Getting Energy.

When Dr. Hefler was finally ready to go home on Friday after rehabilitation and two negative tests for the virus, the doctors, nurses and staff at SMH lined the hallways and cheered him on.

“They did the work you know,” he said. “I should be cheering and clapping for them.”

They also sang his favorite John Denver song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” as he left the hospital.

“People can survive even at my age,” Dr. Hefler said, “so don’t give up hope.”

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