An Ohio father who went to Washington, D.C., to work as a nurse treating coronavirus patients is now on a ventilator and battling the disease himself.

The man, Michael Rhodes, traveled from Columbus on April 7 after the closure of nonessential businesses left him jobless, according to his fiancée, Amber Wachenschwanz, who has been documenting his condition on Facebook.

IMAGE: Michael Rhodes with his son, Bode. (Courtesy Amber Wachenschwanz)

Rhodes, 46, a small-business owner and part-time nurse, has worked for 20 years at Grant Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio’s capital city, where Wachenschwanz also works as a nurse. The two met there and have been together for six years.

“Since his position in the hospital is considered contingent, they would not guarantee him any hours at our hospital,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday.

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Rhodes owns Ion Fire Protection, which employs a handful of people who clean commercial kitchen hoods, Wachenschwanz said.

“When the governor shut down Ohio restaurants, those restaurants cut services like kitchen hood cleaning,” she said.

Rhodes stopped taking a salary from his business so he could pay his staff, which left a hole in the household income. So he decided to work elsewhere as a nurse.

“He knew these hard-hit areas of the pandemic needed help and he could help,” Wachenschwanz said.

When he got to Washington, she said, Rhodes worked at UM Prince George’s Hospital Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, treating non-coronavirus patients for a couple of weeks, before he took on an assignment at a makeshift hospital for patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

On April 27, Wachenschwanz said, Rhodes started complaining of back pain.

“He went to a chiropractor because he thought it was maybe just from working long shifts,” she said.

But the pain did not subside.

A day later, Rhodes woke up in the middle of the night with a fever of 104 degrees. He took a day off from work and stayed in bed with a fever and body aches, his fiancée said.

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On April 30, he tested positive for COVID-19. He quarantined at a hotel where he had been staying.

“Every day we spoke, he told me he was feeling terrible,” Wachenschwanz said.

Rhodes went to a hospital on May 6 and was admitted to intensive care. He spent a night there, and, after his condition worsened, he was transferred to Johns Hopkins, where he is now on a ventilator fighting for his life, his fiancée said.

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Wachenschwanz, 40, said one of the hardest parts of Rhodes’ diagnosis has been explaining it to their children. She has 9-year-old twins, Chase and Cade, from a previous relationship, and Rhodes has a 2-year-old son named Bode. Wachenschwanz said the twins are aware of the high number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths across the country.

“When the twins found out Michael had COVID, their first thing was ‘Is Michael going to die?'” she said. “They’re really concerned about him.”

They are also concerned about her. “Mainly they see me, so they’re sad because I’m sad,” Wachenschwanz said.

Bode keeps asking for his father, she said.

A GoFundMe campaign launched by Rhodes’ best friend, Chad Lusher, has raised more than $22,000 toward a goal of $50,000. Lusher described Rhodes as someone who always puts the needs of others above his own.

“What we wanted to get out there was his story,” Wachenschwanz said. “How somebody goes away from their family, fighting hard to help people. Now he’s sick and far away from home.”


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