This fall, the Kingman High School football team’s sideline felt empty.
“It was a bummer," said Russell Stryker, the school’s head coach.
It felt empty because Stryker wasn’t there.
“I’m real close with this group. They’re a good group of kids," he said. "Some of them I’ve coached since fourth grade."
Instead of being at the games, Stryker was fighting for his life.
“There’s no medical explanation as to why I’m not dead," Russell expressed.
In September, just before the season, the symptoms started.
"I just felt bad like I had the flu," he said.
Stryker thinks he caught COVID-19 from his wife, who battled it for about a week before symptoms went away.
By day six of his fight, his wife had seen enough.
“He could not take any deep breaths," Stephanie Stryker recalled. "He was panting, like, breathing like a dog.”
Doctors told Stephanie Stryker her husband of 30 years was not coming home, maybe never.
“I finally knew it was really bad when [the doctor] used the phrase ‘if he makes it through the night.’ Then, I was like, ‘wait, what?’" Stephanie said.
Stryker’s medical records tell the story: failing lungs, bacterial pneumonia, heavy doses of medication hurting his kidneys.
At one point it appeared he took the final step towards death.
"Flatlined. My heart stopped," he said.
But doctors were able to get his heart beating again.
"With COVID, there is a lot of back and forth. There’s a lot of two steps forward, three steps back," Stephanie said.
Stryker was eventually moved to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona.
Stryker was flown there on a small plane. His wife says his shoulders were too wide for a helicopter to make the trip.
Stephanie estimates the flight cost around $60,000. She was told insurance would not cover the transfer.
“I said, ‘I’ll mortgage my house if I have to. I don’t care. Whatever it takes,’" Stephanie recalled.
A GoFundMe is raising money to help the family pay the bill.
At the Mayo Clinic, Stryker’s condition improved.
“You just don’t hear about people being in ICU for double-digit days or weeks and they pull through it," he said.
“God just promised me he was going to come out of there," Stephanie said.
Stryker is now home working with occupational and physical therapists multiple time a week. He's lost 50 pounds during his 12 weeks in the hospital. He currently uses a walker to get around and is working to get his strength back.
It’s hard to know why COVID-19 almost took his life or why it didn’t.
“My blood pressure was a little high, but gosh, I know people who are diabetic, this and this and this on a list, and they had it and were sick for two days," Stryker said.
Whatever the reason, this coach plans to be on the sidelines again and is living each day with new gratitude.
"Just one of those deals where I feel like I got more stuff I got to do, and it’s important that it gets done," he said.