COVID nearly took life of past comptroller

By Tim Engstrom

EAGAN — Roger Myren didn’t have an underlying health condition. He didn’t have diabetes or asthma. He wasn’t obese. He was a healthy 69-year-old man.

Roger Myren exercises on the NuStep machine The American Legion Department of Minnesota purchased for him through an Operation Comfort Warriors grant.

Yet COVID-19 hit him hard, nearly taking his life.

A Harvard-educated pulmonary physician entered his case into a study.

“He said they just don’t know why some have little to no symptoms and others went through what you went through,” Myren said. “There’s just no rhyme or reason to it.”

On Christmas Day, he didn’t feel well. Neither did his wife, Tracy, nor his son, Alex.

They decided to mail in a COVID test, and all three came back positive. Three or four days later, Tracy was healthy again. When a week passed, Alex was back to normal.

“But I got worse and worse,” Roger said.

He wasn’t the kind of guy who liked to go to the hospital, but his wife convinced him to go, and he did. The doctor said he would be OK.

Two days later, his condition had worsened, and they returned to their hospital in Burnsville. This time, he was sent to St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul.

Days later, doctors placed him in the Intensive Care Unit. It was early January.

After that, Roger’s memories are foggy. He had what doctors called COVID pneumonia, and he had it in both lungs. They also called it acute respiratory disorder syndrome.

He does recall when they took him out of the ICU and moved him to a regular hospital room, only to return him to the ICU two days later. They had to intubate him and connect him to a ventilator — a step the medical staff know is often a last-ditch effort at survival.

He also remembers calling Tracy to share computer passwords and safe combinations, fearing he would not make it through the night.

But Roger made it.

Past Department of Minnesota Comptroller Roger Myren received this NuStep exercise machine through The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors.

Because of COVID visitor restrictions, no one could visit Roger in the ICU. And when he was in the hospital, only Tracy could visit. Their daughter, Amanda Myren, dutifully posted updates about her dad on the Caring Bridge website. Many Legionnaires wished him well and sent cards.

They knew Roger from Legion functions, and he was comptroller for the Department of Minnesota for 14 years. He served as claims coordinator for The American Legion Family Hospital Association for the past 10 years. He is a member of Wabasha Post 50.

When Roger got out of the ICU in March, he was weak.

“I couldn’t even lift a pencil,” he said.

They had a machine to lift him from the bed to a chair and he was able to do some rehab.

He hadn’t exercised his mind for quite a while, being pretty much a zombie for two months, and the specialists exercised his core-thinking skills.

“They had these quiz games where they gave you clues and you had to figure it out,” he said. “It was hard at first.”

Even after his mind had improved, there still were recollection hiccups. For example, he was told about a dear friend’s death, but later, when told again, he didn’t recall being told the first time.

When he got out of the hospital in late March, they offered him rehab at M Health Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis, and he stayed there three weeks until he went home April 15.

His home in Eagan is a split-level house, with eight steps to go upstairs.

“After two stairs, I would sit down on that step and pant and pant and pant, and that’s with the oxygen on,” Myren said.

Tracy was extremely worried about having the necessary equipment she would need to take care of Roger at home. He told her to contact American Legion Department Service Officer Jeremy Wolfsteller and the VA patient advocate.

The advocate at the time was Mike Rosecrans. He and Myren served together in the Navy previously. Equipment included things like bannisters for stairs and bars to grab in the shower.

“On his own time, in his own vehicle, Mike drove it out here after hours,” he said. “He even put it together.”

When Roger worked at the Department of Minnesota, he would go see Rosecrans from time to time and have lunch. Rosecrans now is retired from the VA.

Meanwhile, Roger’s wife and son made sure he was eating right. The VA authorized an in-home physical therapist, who came for eight weeks. On top of that therapy, Roger would walk, at first in the house from the living room to the kitchen. This distance was about 20 feet.

He then attempted to walk outside and go farther.

“I could go 30, 40 feet before I had to sit down and get some air,” he said.

Wolfsteller said he helped Myren have VA Community Care Counsel to assist with the transition, which was Rosecrans.

He helped Roger with getting adaptive equipment from the VA to help with the inability to do things on his own.

He enrolled Roger in the Comprehensive Caregiver Program, which allows Tracy to receive a stipend for taking care of him.

“The DSO isn’t just there to help with claims,” Myren said. “He can help with a wide variety of grants that the veteran may not know about.”

Roger and Tracy Myren smile for a photo during a pontoon cruise in August 2020, months before COVID-19 left him with double pneumonia. Roger is a Navy veteran of the Vietnam era.

Wolfsteller applied for and received a $5,000 grant to purchase a NuStep crosstrainer, which was the exact same model Roger had used at M Health Fairview.

“I am very thankful he would do that,” he said.

Roger cannot go outside on days with super humidity or smoke from forest fires, and without the NuStep he would have no means to get his legs moving.

“Having that piece of exercise equipment like that in the house is very beneficial,” he said.

These days, Myren has physical therapy on Mondays and Wednesdays. He pulmonary rehab exercise on Tuesday and Thursdays, where therapists monitor his vital signs as he exercises.

“Now I can walk 250 feet before I have to stop and catch my breath,” he said.

Roger said he is very grateful to all Legionnaires for their continued support during his rehabilitation.

In late August, his therapist shared with him a piece of paper. On it were these words: “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm,’ and the warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’”