WATSON, La. (The Livingston Parish News) –– T.J. Fisher has always been the healthy one.
In fact, it’s something of a running joke in the family.
“He’s never had a stitch, a broken bone, never been to a hospital — nothing,” his brother Norwood said. “It’s kind of a running joke with us. We always joke with him about never having a medical issue, ever.
“Well, we can check that box now.”
Fisher, a resident of Denham Springs, was recently diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, one of at least 133 people in Livingston Parish who have contracted the disease, as of the Louisiana Department of Health’s figures on Wednesday.
But after a 10-day stay in the hospital, in which he was shut off from his loved ones and hooked up to an oxygen mask as his body recovered, the 66-year-old Livingston Parish native is back at home.
To all those who love him, that was cause for a celebration.
Dozens of decorated cars driven by family members, friends, and other well-wishers paraded in front of Fisher’s home on Saturday, April 11, to celebrate his recovery from the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
T.J. and his wife of nearly 46 years, Barbara “Bob,” sat in lawn chairs just outside their front door, waving as people drove by, shouted “We love you,” held up signs, and placed flowers in a white basket.
Behind T.J. and his wife was a sign that read, “Caught it, Fought it, Beat it.”
After the procession of at least 26 cars passed, close family members stayed behind to chat with T.J., whose face was covered with a purple LSU cloth mask. Along with his wife, his two daughters were there as well as grandchildren, a great-grandchild, and a few other relatives from what was described as “a big, close family.”
That was a much different feeling than the previous two or so weeks, according to family members who had never seen Fisher come down with any sickness or ever have to go to the hospital… until now.
But as health experts have repeatedly said over the last month, this novel coronavirus “doesn’t discriminate.”
Fisher learned that first-hand.
According to his daughters Rhonda and Jenelle, Fisher and his wife quarantined themselves “early,” much sooner even than Gov. John Bel Edwards’ “stay at home” order that was officially issued on March 22.
But that didn’t prevent Fisher, a retiree from Placid Refining Company who maintains an active lifestyle, from developing symptoms related to the disease. In a few days, he started having difficulty breathing and later admitted to having chills.
On March 30, Fisher called family members to let them know he was heading to the hospital — a shocking announcement to family members who always saw Fisher as “an iron man.”
“It was terrifying,” Rhonda recalled. “He’s always been very healthy and rarely goes to the doctor. He’s never even been to the hospital before. So when he made that phone call, we were all terrified.
“But it was pretty obvious while he was talking that he was having difficulty breathing. He was really short of breath.”
Scott Sutton, Fisher’s son-in-law who brought him to the hospital with Barbara, recalled Fisher’s difficulty breathing as they made their way to the Baton Rouge General.
“I’m a first responder at work, so normally if this (the coronavirus) wasn’t going on, you would’ve thought he was having heart problems by the way he was gasping for breath,” Scott said. “But with this going on, we kind of knew that was a big possibility.”
A test eventually confirmed that Fisher had indeed contracted the novel disease, which has spread to nearly 22,000 Louisiana residents since the first confirmed case on March 9. Fisher ultimately needed an oxygen mask to help him breathe, though family members point out he never required a ventilator.
While in the hospital, Fisher was shut off from the rest of his family, perhaps the hardest part of it all for the “family man.” He admitted to getting lonely, Rhonda said, and at one point he called his wife “because he said he just needed to hear her voice.”
But being separated from Fisher was hard on the family, too.
“You’re watching all the stuff on television, and you’re thinking the worst,” Norwood said. “And he was the healthiest of all of us. It was a rough time.”
Fisher would call and text family members to let them know how he was doing, though “the calls were short” since he would lose his breath easily. Doctors also called Barbara every morning, updating her of her husband’s oxygen levels and how his recovery was coming along.
At one point, Rhonda said the family put out a request on Facebook, asking people for prayers as Fisher’s stay in the hospital lengthened. The messages and words of encouragement immediately began pouring in, including some from people who didn’t even know Fisher.
“He had an army of people praying for him,” Rhonda said. “We got a big response and people really rallied to pray for dad.”
On April 9, Fisher was officially released from the hospital and allowed to go home. Two days later, he sat in a fold-out chair waving at relatives and friends as they drove past him for a surprise parade organized by his granddaughter, Nici.
He returned the favor on Tuesday, waving at his granddaughter from his vehicle in a birthday parade that took place down her street.
“I guess he felt like getting out of the house,” Nici said with a laugh.
David Gray/The News