Putting the pieces together

Richard Dudley of Moran is back at work three years after a near-death battle with COVID-19.

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Local News

February 29, 2024 - 2:20 PM

Richard Dudley of Moran works at Bomgaars putting together equipment such as barbecue grills and lawn chairs, shown behind him. It’s been a long recovery after he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in February 2021. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Two days a week, Richard Dudley, age 77, puts his handyman skills to the test as he assembles lawnmowers, barbecue grills, wood splitters and other items at Bomgaars Supply.

His work is proof of just how far he’s come in three years after a near-fatal experience battling COVID-19.

“They sent me home to die,” he said, recalling his refusal to be put on a ventilator. Instead, he told doctors he’d rather go back to his home in Moran, even if it meant he wouldn’t survive.

Preachers met with him at the hospital. Hospice services were ready. His family gathered to say goodbye.

But Dudley did recover, much to everyone’s surprise. 

It’s been a long and difficult road. He still has memory loss and carries an oxygen machine. He continues to see a specialist in Kansas City. 

“I try to remember things prior to being sick, but some of it is just a cloud,” he said.

Once he started to feel a little more like himself, Dudley knew it was time to get back to work. He has a good retirement package after working as a truck driver most of his life but likes to keep himself busy. 

Going back to work wasn’t easy, either. He tried to work for the county but found it too difficult to operate heavy equipment, even though he had years of experience. Then he picked up trash at the landfill but the work was difficult with his condition.

He found a job at Bomgaars about a year ago. Even then, it took time to figure out a good fit. His skill at assembling equipment came in handy. Now, he has his own little corner in the back of the store where he puts together such things as wheelbarrows, outdoor furniture, lawn chairs, “you name it.”

“They treat me pretty good here,” he said. “They understand.”

DUDLEY AND his wife, Pat, attended a funeral for Richard’s sister on Feb. 5, 2021. They knew it was a risk because of COVID and took precautions. They wore masks and kept interactions limited to a small group of people, but everyone in that group came down with COVID. Richard and Pat both tested positive on Valentine’s Day.

Pat recovered fairly quickly. Richard’s illness was complicated by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He ended up in the hospital.

“When I woke up, I was in a different world,” he said. “When they told me I was going to die, I told the Lord, ‘It’s up to you.’ I guess He heard me.”

He was confused. He couldn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t walk. Pat became a caregiver: “She had to bathe me like a baby.”

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