Editor’s note: This is the Jason Reel, 49, is back on duty as a firefighter/EMT/police officer for the City of Willard. After a life-or-death battle against COVID-19, he has survived and is healing. He calls his renewed chance at life as a “miracle.”
The first time Jason Reel put his police uniform on after returning from a battle with COVID-19, it was very emotional.
“I worked a football game,” Reel said of his return to duty. “I told our assistant police chief I didn’t think I’d ever be in uniform again. “
It was a tough road back. While in the COVID ward at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Toledo, Reel said he was told ministry services were coming in to be with him. That takes a special meaning for first responders.
“My mind goes, I’m going to die,” he recalled. “If the priests and the nuns are doing this, whenever we call the sister in at Willard Mercy, it’s always for bad. When they said they’re doing it, I asked the nurse an I dying?”
Reel said the nurse said no. He told Reel he was doing fine.
“I explained to him if they call the sister in,” he said, “it’s bad. It’s always a bad deal.”
The only way Reel could see or talk to his family and loved ones was through Zoom. His parents, Gary and Doris Reel, live in Clyde.
“One time when they did a Zoom meeting, I was intubated,” Reel explained. “I could still hear.”
As they spoke to him, Reel said he could just shake his head. He listened to his parents express their love for him.
“On the second Zoom meeting, I could see,” he pointed out. “I could talk. It was very raspy, but I could talk.”
Family had been told the doctors did not think Jason was going to make it. His parents are in their 80s.
“They told my parents there is a good chance you are going to lose your son,” Reel said. “You’re not supposed to die before your parents. My mom and my dad took it really, really hard.”
His family knows there is danger involved in Reel’s chosen careers. It was never a virus that was possibly going to take their son away.
“No,” he said. “No idea whatsoever.”
For Reel, however, he knew he was in bad condition.
“Everyone knows you are a work of God,” he explained. “He’s got more plans for you.”
Things have changed for Reel, including his faith.
“It wasn’t as strong as it is today,” he explained. “I think I took life as an advantage. Now, the grass is greener.
“I pray a lot more,” Reel pointed out. “I do. I thank Him a lot more.”
When the community heard that Reel was on a ventilator in Toledo and the outcome looked bleak, people responded. His Facebook page was filled with prayers, love and hope.
“The outpouring of care from the people in this community and everywhere,” Reel said. “My town. It was overwhelming.”
Reel wears several different badges. For many officers and first responders, people do not see them as a person but as someone who can help.
For Reel, the outpouring was “a little of both.” While working at a football game, he said people were coming up to him and expressing their good thoughts and blessings.
“They saw my name on my vest,” he pointed out. “They came up to me and said thank you. We are praying for you. Members of the football team shook my hand.”
As he once again serves the community, Reel said he hopes people see that he has recovered and that there is hope for victims of COVID-19.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people through Facebook,” he explained. “A deputy sheriff friend of mine in Erie County has it right now. He has called me, and I have been talking to him.
“I have lived through it,” he said. “I’m one of the few. I’m not a statistic.”
Reel said he contacted COVID-19 from a squad run. It was not something he expected would happen to him.
“I believe in COVID,” he explained. “I know it’s serious. I didn’t think I was going to catch it. I did think I was invincible, and it wasn’t going to happen to me. My God, I caught it.”
With his return to work after being struck down by the coronavirus, Reel said many people have been amazed.
“Did I go back too soon?” he wondered. “Maybe. I am comfortable with being back. I’m a lot more cautious. I wear a mask everywhere.”
He follows the requirements for social distancing and hand washing.
“If I don’t have to be out,” Reel explained, “I’m not out. I’m staying home.”
Reel said his relationships with friend and family have changed with his sickness and recovery. He takes nothing for granted.
“I’m a lot closer to everybody,” he pointed out. “Like I said. This is a life changing experience.”
His family went out to dinner after his recovery. Reel said it was a very emotional time for them all.
“I’m walking in with a cane,” he explained. “I didn’t have strength in my legs. That’s for older people. Not a guy in his 40s.”
Recovery has not been easy. Reel, however, is determined and said called the last few months of his life “a hell of a ride.” He also has some advice for everyone who goes out of their homes. Wear the mask.
“We don’t know the outcome of this,” he explained. “We have to follow the safety practices.”
Reel said he still has some cloudiness in the bottom lobes of his lungs. It will dissipate with the use of his inhaler within the next several months.
With his hospitalization, recovery and return to duty, Reel said the City of Willard has been incredible. There were calls and offers of help.
His hope is someone can learn about his story and that it may help, even in some small way.
“I’m used to helping people,” Reel pointed out. “People helping me was a big change for me.”
As he started to recover, Reel questioned if he would ever be “normal” again after COVID-19.
“I feel lucky,” he said. “That I survived.”
When he was released from the hospital in Toledo, all of the nurses came outside to say goodbye. They all stood there clapping. Reel said it brought tears to his eyes. Walking out in the sunshine, and the music is playing.”
Reel said he knows why God brought him back to the community and life of service he loves.
“To help others,” he pointed out. “That’s what I’m doing.”