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The Way founder Brian Purcell hospitalized with COVID-19: 'I'm just trusting God'

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Posted at 3:29 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 15:37:07-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Brian Purcell runs The Way, a Sandston-based non-profit that helps feed low income elderly communities, homeless veterans, and foster organizations has contracted COVID-19. Purcell and his wife were both diagnosed last week and are being treated at VCU Medical Center.

“The Way” outreach started in 2015 as a mobile food ministry, but now is located on Williamsburg Road. The organization runs a thrift store that helps fund their work. More than 3,000 people benefit from The Way’s outreach program, which also helps people find jobs and places to live.

Purcell said he made the tough decision to shut down his outreach program until he’s recovered.

Tracy Sears spoke with Brian via Zoom video conference about this diagnosis and recovery.

Tracy Sears
How are you? How are you feeling?

Brian Purcell 0:21
A lot better today than I was when I first entered. I'm trying to say as optimistic as possible, and I just had to look at each day I'm getting better than what I was when I first came in and just being able to talk to you without losing my breath is huge for me.

Tracy Sears
What were the onset of your symptoms? When did you start to suspect that you had the virus?

Brian Purcell
Well, last Wednesday, I went in to Patient First, thought I had the flu. I was sweating real bad. And I was having some aches. Went and got tested me said, I didn't have the flu and based off of my respiratory, they were almost for certain I didn't have the COVID-19. So they told me stay in bed for two days. Then after two days I went outside to cut grass and ended up spiking fever. And I was having a hard time talking.

Tracy Sears
I can tell you're short of breath right now. Have the symptoms gotten worse or better since you've been in the hospital?

Brian Purcell
I think everything's gotten better. Today's the first real day that I've really got to talk without having a lot of shortness of breath.

Tracy Sears
Your wife has the same virus right now. I imagine it's scary that both of you are there in the same condition. Are you together or are you in separate rooms?

Brian Purcell
We're in separate rooms we chose to stay separate after we were confirmed positive. I'm more noisier than her and she likes the peace and quiet, no TV and I'm on the other extreme.

Tracy Sears
Does she had the same symptoms as you?

Brian Purcell
Hers I think we're a little bit different she was having more of a real bad cough and started doing the hot and cold sweats and things like that. They actually have her on a different trial medication than me because when I did x rays, and that I had pneumonia clusters, and so they got me on a different treatment than her.

Tracy Sears
Okay, how are you all being treated in the hospital? I know the staff is really busy and really attentive to all their patients. Are you all isolated from the rest of the COVID population? Or are you all together?

Brian Purcell
We're all in the same hall. I can look out my door and each room that has a COVID patient has like a big red warning label out out on the door.

But the nurses have been great.

I've been finding that learning from their experiences that they're very short handed. They're actually calling in nurses from other areas that don't normally address situations like ours to come in to help out. They've beeb very, very helpful and very good.

Tracy Sears
Do you know, how crowded the hospital is with COVID patients?

Brian Purcell
I don't know. My wife would know more of that she works here. I know just going from as far as I can see out of my door. There's at least four people in this floor that have it

Tracy Sears
Which hospital?

Brian Purcell
We're at [VCU Medical Center].

Tracy Sears
Brian, you have an organization The Way that helps feed veterans, low income elderly, foster families. So many people rely on you for their meals each day. You said you had to make that very difficult decision to close down for now.

Brian Purcell
I had people that were willing to pick up food for me and to carry on without me being there. But when the main volunteers found out that I was sick, they didn't feel comfortable being there without me. And I didn't want to put them at risk. So I just said, we're just going to go ahead and shut everything down so I can get better and you guys can feel a lot more comfortable.

Tracy Sears
Do you have any idea of how you may have contracted the virus?

Brian Purcell
I don't. I know after being in bed for two days, I got up and I felt great. I mean, I was full of energy. And I just went outside to cut grass. And I came back in after being out there a few hours, and I spiked the high fever. And that's when I started notice I was having shortness of breath.

Tracy Sears
Do you have any plans for the time being, to help the folks that you normally serve? I know right now, you just have to worry about yourself. But I didn't know if there was ever a backup plan in the case that you ever were to get sick.

Brian Purcell
And unfortunately, I don't have a backup plan with that. Besides the people that want to continue to pick up for me, but not having enough people to be able to be at The Way and put the food way and send it out things like that. We didn't have enough for that. So we can't continue unless I have all of that going on in place.

Tracy Sears
You do so much for the community and I know so many people rely on you. But for now, focus on yourself and your wife and getting better.

Brian Purcell
Yeah, I was just actually thinking today that I'm not able to do what I really want to do. And that's to serve the community. But I'm getting to a place where I want to be able to serve my community a lot better than what I did before. And I'll be well and I'll be more energized to do it.

Tracy Sears
Is there anything the public can help you with in the meantime?

Brian Purcell
Prayers are huge.

I'm more outspoken about things than my wife, so just prayers are greatly appreciated. I know since the virus pandemic has been going on, we've had like a dip in financial contributions and funding coming in from our thrift store we had to close it all down.

So we actually had to contact the landlord and say we can't afford to pay rent.

Thankfully they were very helpful and supportive and kind said, okay, don't worry about it right now.

Those are my concerns, if I don't have the funding to be able to pay, how much longer can I actually go with The Way?

I'm just trusting God and knowing that He brought me this far and I know he's not just dropping me off.