Mark Oveen and his wife, Shelley, have gotten used to daily schedule changes since he started working as a health inspector for the Loudoun County Health Department about a year ago.
The couple was visiting a friend a year ago when they started feeling under the weather with flu-like symptoms. They were not hospitalized. When they returned home, Mark, 61, learned from his physician that he’d contracted something that contained the coronavirus from the fall 2013 outbreak in London that sent at least 66 people to the hospital with respiratory ailments.
“I think anybody who starts to look at their health and make plans because something is going to happen, takes the risk of having a serious health issue that they can’t get health insurance for or have pre-existing conditions that might make them difficult to insure for or aren’t covered,” said Shelley, 55.
They didn’t realize they had it until Mark’s second visit to the doctor, in December. A chest X-ray that he’d taken earlier during a visit with a dog-napping victim revealed an undiagnosed pulmonary embolism. When Mark had a routine CT-scan at the beginning of February, his specialist realized it was connected to the back story of his December visit to the veterinarian.
His first blood test came back positive for a coruscavirus, but doctors didn’t connect it to his wife or him.
“They said you know it’s probably something to do with your environment. What’s happened in London, or where you live? That’s what I was told and that’s why we didn’t do anything,” Mark said.
He was admitted to the Naval Medical Center at Little Creek the next day. Shelley, who works as a reporter at the Roanoke Times, stayed home with their children, 8-year-old Trent and 5-year-old Adrianna.
“It just changed everything for us,” Mark said. They moved to a house on 18 acres in Kermit, just south of Roanoke. They went without their routine month-to-month supply of prescription medication. Shelley didn’t eat full meals for a week. “We cut down on everything as much as we could,” she said.
It took Mark two months to get the inflammation and swelling under control. After a week in the hospital, he felt comfortable enough to go home. Shelley stayed in the hospital for four weeks. “It’s really distressing. My hair started falling out and everything else,” she said.
They were anxious about their family’s and society’s reaction. They didn’t tell their friends when Mark was out of town. “It’s kind of just one of those things. You do what you do and you hope for the best. ” Mark said.
A month after their return home, Mark made his first trip to the local hospital for his doctor’s visit since he’d been hospitalized. After blood work and a chest X-ray, he felt strong enough to ride a scooter to his cousin’s home in Texas. He and Shelley are currently living with her family in Virginia. Mark’s health insurance has covered most of the costs for Mark’s treatments so far. The couple also hope to apply for and receive free health insurance through the Veterans Affairs medical system. They are looking into other financial assistance programs.
“We got a little panic on the first day,” Mark said of his concerns about getting his medical bills paid off. “In the beginning, it was like you are in a holding pattern for a while. But I’m starting to get the feeling that it’s just a matter of time that’s it’s going to be all finished.”
He and Shelley are devout Christians. They abstain from consuming pork products when Mark is in the United States. They’re planning to celebrate Good Friday this Friday at a parish church, a visit he thinks is more likely to encounter the influenza virus.
“I suppose I will go, but we’re going to talk about that before we do,” Mark said. “We’re going to see what the bishop says, and what Shelley says. If we need any special permission, we’ll go.”
Read more updates here.