A local paramedic who spent more than four months in hospitals fighting COVID-19 was cheered and applauded as he was released from a Henderson hospital Friday morning.

John Foster, 60, was discharged at 11 a.m. from the Dignity Health Rehabilitation Hospital, at 2930 Siena Heights Drive, where hospital staff gave him a “clap out.” Foster, who works for Guardian Elite Medical Services, had been hospitalized since April 7 after contracting the coronavirus, and spent two months unconscious on a ventilator.

“This one caught me off guard,” he said of the disease, adding that there were times he wasn’t sure if he would survive COVID-19.

Foster has worked as a paramedic for 33 years, 20 of which were in the Las Vegas Valley. While sick, he suffered a stroke and kidney failure, and he had to learn how to walk again once he came off the ventilator.

He was hospitalized about two weeks after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered a shut down of nonessential businesses in Nevada, as the infection rate for the state was nearing its peak of more than 12 percent.

As of Friday, Nevada had reported 67,852 cases of the disease and 1,287 deaths throughout the state.

Though the shutdown orders ended while Foster was hospitalized, he’s now heading home to a daily life that is drastically different for most Nevadans. He had simple advice for those who have remained healthy — wear a mask and “keep your distance.”

“Take protecting yourself seriously,” he said.

After thanking the hospital staff and first responders who gathered to celebrate his discharge, Foster addressed reporters in a low voice from his wheelchair. He said he had “run out of tears” over the experience of finally being released.

While he was hospitalized, Foster was limited to one visitor a day. Friday was the first time he had seen many of his family members, who tearfully embraced him.

Foster said being alone was painful, and the experiencing of waking up after two months on a ventilator was disorienting.

“It scrambles the brain,” he said. “It makes you wonder what you’re actually doing there, and if it’s actually real or not.”

Samuel Scheller, CEO of Foster’s employer, Guardian Elite Medical Services, stopped taking photos long enough to exchange a fist bump with Foster.

Scheller said that knowing the realities of the disease and it’s complications, he was worried Foster wouldn’t recover. But like Foster, who said he wants to get back in an ambulance as soon as possible, Scheller said the experience hasn’t dissuaded him from continuing his job.

“When we go to work everyday, we go in knowing that there is some possibility we could contract something from a patient,” he said.

Foster said he’s not sure how he contracted the coronavirus.

“It could have been anybody. That’s the danger of being a first responder,” he said.

Before resuming rehabilitation to build up strength to return to work, Foster said he wanted to hug his family and get “real food” from Firehouse Subs.

“The air feels good,” he said, his eyes showing signs of a smile behind his face mask.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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