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Bodkin Family Free From COVID-19 Ordeal

After Two Months, All Four St. C. Family Members Test Negative

Members of the Bodkin family from St. Clairsville — Alyssa, Lori, Bob and Cory, from left — this past week celebrated the long-awaited end of their battles with the coronavirus. All four members of the family tested positive for COVID-19 in April, and all have since recovered with the last family member’s negative test confirmed last Sunday. (Photo Provided)

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — It’s been a long and challenging two months for the Bodkin family of St. Clairsville, which has exemplified all meanings of the phrase “staying positive” through the coronavirus pandemic.

In early April, the family members were among the first people in Belmont County to test positive for COVID-19. All four Bodkins — parents Lori and Bob and their children Cory and Alyssa — all tested positive. They were the first family in the Ohio Valley to step forward about their diagnoses, doing so to deliver a sense of hope and to put a face on the unfolding pandemic that was sweeping the world with a degree of fear and uncertainty.

While the family has embraced perseverance, resilience and faith to get by the day-by-day trials on their first-hand journey through the coronavirus pandemic, it has not been without twists, turns and emotional challenges.

Although three of the family members eventually tested negative for COVID-19, the biggest challenge of the whole ordeal was that it never seemed to end. Their celebration of freedom was repeatedly delayed because Bob — the first family member to be confirmed positive for the virus — continued to test positive week after week.

“Technically he had been symptom-free for at least three to four weeks prior to his final test, but he was still showing up as positive,” Lori said. “They had to act as if he was still contagious.

Cory, Lori, Bob and Alyssa Bodkin, from left, of St. Clairsville, wear masks after their journey to be re-tested for COVID-19 on April 16. Despite the fact that they had gone through the two-week quarantine after testing positive and were feeling better at that time, they were met with disappointment after they all still tested positive for the corona virus that day. (Photo Provided)

“We got through this because we love each other and took care of each other as a family. We had to be our own advocates, because the doctors and health department had not seen any cases of COVID as long as Bob’s. They were all learning right along with our family.”

Freedom finally came after nine tests for Bob.

He took his last test on May 28 and got the results back on May 31, which happened to be Lori’s birthday.

“What a gift it was!,” she said.

The Bodkins had no idea their battle with the coronavirus would have taken so long. In fact, the worst of their symptoms came before they even tested positive. Cory was virtually asymptomatic the entire time. Lori and Alyssa had mild and manageable symptoms. Bob had developed pneumonia and had the worst symptoms of all, but still continued to test positive long after he was feeling better.

A message of hope is displayed inside the St. Clairsville home of the Bodkin family, where all four family members were among the first in the area to test positive for the coronavirus. By April 23, two family members had tested negative, while the other two were still testing positive. Little did they know at the time that they were not close to being “half way there” to the end of their COVID-19 ordeal. (Photo Provided)

“One of most frustrating things was that for weeks, we all felt good,” Lori said. “Bob on occasions would have a cough come back, but it was not bothersome, and even then he felt good. I leaned on my faith a lot. We tried to stay focused not on the things we couldn’t do, but recognize things we were blessed with and grateful for. Being able to enjoy family dinners together, having a game night or just knowing that everybody in my home was safe. Those kind of things just helped me recognize that we are truly blessed. We were grateful for people who stepped up to help us or cared enough to offer to help us. Living one day at a time really helped us get by.”

SO MANY TESTS

When Bob first tried to get tested for COVID-19 on March 26, he was rejected for testing at that time because he did not have a fever and was not showing signs of respiratory distress. Soon afterward, however, he had developed pneumonia and was very ill. They agreed to test him for the first time on April 3. The results came back on April 6 that he was positive for COVID-19. The rest of the family by that time had begun to show symptoms, and because of Bob’s positive test, they were all tested the same day his positive result was confirmed. They all tested positive.

At that point, they assumed that they would all have to shelter in place for two weeks as the Centers for Disease Control recommended, then be free to rejoin society. They also assumed that since Bob was the first one to show symptoms and to test positive, he would be the first one to recover.

“There were only about 40 cases in Belmont County when we first tested positive,” Lori said, noting they joked with the representative from the health department about their situation, because with one call to the Bodkin household, he could reach 10% of all the patients he was monitoring at the time.

A physician on staff at the East Liverpool Hospital testing center holds a rapid COVID-19 antibodies tester during one of the re-test visits by Bob Bodkin of St. Clairsville. The results show that he was not quite testing negative. Family members explained that the C is the control line, the strong red IgG line means his body had developed the COVID antibodies, but the slightly pink IgM line meant his body was still fighting the active coronavirus. (Photo Provided)

Their first disappointment came on April 16, after being quarantined for two weeks since their positive tests. They all tested positive again on their first retest.

“It was disappointing because we all started to feel better, and Cory was still asymptomatic,” Lori said. “We couldn’t leave the house. We couldn’t go anywhere. We thought we made it to the finish line, and it wasn’t the finish line.”

Patients have to wait seven days between tests, so Thursday became testing day for the Bodkins.

“Those tests are no fun,” Lori said of the nasal swab, which has been the method used at the Wheeling testing site. “They are invasive in my opinion. I literally felt like my nose was violated. It was not comfortable at all.”

Lori said a friend had informed them that the East Liverpool Hospital was doing antibody testing using the finger-prick method, and results were available on the spot in 10 minutes. So they enthusiastically took the hour and 20 minute trip to East Liverpool on April 23 for that retesting date.

“Cory and I were both negative for the virus and had the antibodies,” Lori said. “Alyssa was neutral, which meant she wasn’t showing the antibodies yet … so they consider that positive, and then Bob did not have the antibodies at all and was still showing the virus. So we had a mixed bag.”

In order for Cory to go back to work as an emergency medical technician, he had to move out of the house that weekend since he had family members still testing positive. He also had to get re-tested two more times and be confirmed negative both times before he was allowed to return to the front line. Both his tests on April 27 and 28 were clear.

“Thankfully Oglebay offers free lodging for health care workers and first responders who have a situation like ours who have to stay away from their families,” Lori said. “So Cory moved into one of the chalets at Oglebay to stay away from our family so he could go back to work. But him having to move out was awful.”

On April 30, Alyssa and Bob made the trek to East Liverpool, and Alyssa tested negative. Bob did not. He returned to East Liverpool on May 7, when his test showed he was developing the antibodies, but he was still showing a slightly active virus. So they could not deem him to be negative.

Lori said the testing center in East Liverpool does not take calls, so the next week on May 14, they went to have another test for Bob, but after making the drive, they were informed that because tests were becoming limited, they were no longer permitted to retest anyone who was positive.

After all four members of the household tested positive for COVID-19, the Bodkin family of St. Clairsville was able to get through it by keeping their faith, counting their blessings, keeping a positive attitude and living day by day. (Photo Provided)

“That day was so frustrating,” Lori said. “They said once you were positive, you do what the CDC recommends — quarantine for 14 days and then you’re good. We said ‘no, no, no,’ he has to test negative in order to go back to work.”

So instead, they had to drive back, have Bob take the nasal swab and wait several days for the results, which still came back as positive. Through the whole ordeal, they have undergone all three types of tests — the nasal swab, the throat swab and the finger stick. Bob continued to test positive for so long, the family doctor, local health officials, an infectious disease specialist and an epidemiologist collaborated and were ready to deem him as being non-contagious and not a threat to anyone in an effort to allow him to go back to work, despite his positive testing.

“They didn’t think that he was contagious, but didn’t know for sure,” Lori said. “But they said, if your body would be contagious that long, you’d probably be dead, because your body can’t sustain that high infectious rate for such a long period of time. But because nobody knew, we had to continue to quarantine and wear masks, socially distance and all of that.

“Nobody really knows what this virus is all about. Nobody has a clear-cut, definite answer about how long you are contagious, how long you are going to still be shedding the virus and how long it’s going to stay positive in your system. Nobody really knows those answers, and that’s what’s troubling.”

Had the family just followed the CDC guidelines and been released from quarantine two weeks after testing positive, they all would have been back in the community while still positive.

Bob was able to return to work this past week, and Cory was able to return home as well.

Under the circumstances, the family has found ways to stay positive … with their optimistic attitude.

“I’m just excited to see what’s around the corner,” Lori said, yet acknowledging that the long-awaited freedom is a double-edged sword. “I think when we go back to normal, I’m going to miss things. We’ve been together for almost 10 weeks. Now Alyssa has gone off to soccer practice, Cory’s at work and Bob just went back to work, too, and I’m home alone now. I miss everybody’s company! I really enjoy having my family around me.”

The ultimate gift is the one thing the Bodkins do not have to worry about now — they can’t get the coronavirus, and they can’t give it to anyone.

“I have the antibodies and immunity, but I still wear my mask in public to show people that it’s OK to wear a mask and not be embarrassed,” Lori said.

And just recently, she got to do one thing that most other people still can’t do with those beyond your household — hug people she loves.

“We finally saw my family, and I cried when I got to hug my mom, because I haven’t seen them for so long,” she said. “I can’t give it to anybody, and I can’t get it. You don’t realize how much the lack of human contact really affects you.”

Through this journey, Lori said she has been given opportunities to “corona counsel” family, friends and even strangers.

“Everyone just really wants and needs reassurance because they are scared from all the negative news focus on the number of deaths and hospitalizations,” she said. “No one is talking about the hundreds of thousands of people who have successfully recovered from COVID-19. We should be celebrating those numbers.”

Lori Bodkin of St. Clairsville has continued to share "Mentor Moments" online as a source of inspiration for many and has even offered "corona counseling" to family, friends and strangers who seek a first-hand perspective of what dealing with the coronavirus is really like.

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