By Lea Kopke
ASHWAUBENON – In April 2020, an Ashwaubenon angler found himself being rushed via helicopter to a hospital, where at one point he was into a medically-induced coma from a severe case of COVID-19.
Now, a year later, Shawn Skenandore finds himself accepting a spot with team First Nations in the 2021 XVI Black Bass World Championship in November on Lake Murray in South Carolina.
In the middle of March 2020, Skenandore said he got sick with what he thought was a common cold.
He said he had a fever, chills and nausea, symptoms which were at the time not heavily associated with COVID-19.
On April 10, he was admitted to HSHS St. Vincent Hospital for low oxygen levels, before quickly being driven across town to HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital.
“They didn’t tell me, they just threw me on the bed, ran me down the hall and threw me on the back of the rescue squad, and we took off like a bat out of hell,” Skenandore said.
It was during the ambulance ride he learned his COVID-19 test came back positive.
Skenandore spent more than a month isolated in the hospital, with almost 20 of those days on life support in a medically-induced coma.
The doctors told Skenandore and his wife, Brandy John, his chances of survival were not good, because it was unlikely someone with his blood type would donate the plasma needed for treatment.
He was given his last rights and was put into a medically-induced coma.
His wife continued to call three or four times a day to give him updates on his condition, his daughter Sykora John’s pregnancy and his family.
“Supposedly, the nurse told my wife my toes would wiggle while she was on the phone,” he said.
Skenandore said all three of his daughters would have nurses use an iPad to play him music, turn the television on to an outdoor channel or play a soundtrack of a person casting a fishing pole and reeling it in.
“I still get really emotional knowing what I went through, knowing the support I got,” he said. “Because you don’t realize how much you mean to people until life is just about taken away.”
Roughly halfway through Skenandore’s time on life support, his doctor called his wife and said he probably wouldn’t make it through the night.
But the odds turned in his favor, he said, because someone with his blood type donated two bags of plasma.
“Through family and friends’ prayer, I pulled through,” Skenandore said. “My wife didn’t give up, didn’t pull the plug. She knew I was a fighter and looked forward to family and outdoor time.”
He said on Mother’s Day his wife posted on social media about how it would be a miracle to have him home.
“That evening I pulled out my life support and feeding tube,” Skenandore said. “I was in a coma sedated and had my arms strapped onto the bed, but somehow I was able to do it.”
He then spent about five months in rehabilitation therapy and was mostly recovered by the end of December.
Laura Nelson, chief medical officer at Prevea Health, said it’s typical for patients who were sick as long as Skenandore was to have a somewhat difficult recovery process.
“When you’re sick for a long time, your muscles get weak and you get deconditioned,” Nelson said. “So the shortness of breath, the weakness. We do refer quite a few people to physical therapy.”
However, she said literature has shown people who have a positive mental attitude and goals to reach often have an easier recovery.
“I think fishing probably played a very positive role in that he had something to look forward to,” Nelson said. “He had a goal to reach and a passion.”
Skenandore said he spent only a week back at his Green Bay Packaging job in January before he was forced to take off another three months after his appendix ruptured and part of his colon was removed.
He said he still has some lingering effects from COVID-19, like fatigue, body aches and breathing problems.
“Hopefully, this story can help other people with understanding COVID,” Skenandore said. “You can’t see it or taste it, so you just got to take better precautions on it.”
Nelson said people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 but have ongoing symptoms, should reach out to their primary care doctor for advice.
From bed to boat
Because he spoke about his love for fishing so much while in recovery, Skenandore said his Prevea physical therapist, Dr. Jordyn Arndt, used the hobby as a part of his therapy exercises.
He said Arndt told him the movement of casting and reeling a fishing pole would be beneficial to rebuilding his muscle mass.
Nelson said many physical therapists incorporate a patient’s hobby into the recovery process because it helps them physically and mentally.
“(For Skenandore, fishing) probably gave him incentive every day to get up and walk and move and, you know, get his fishing gear together, talk to his buddies and really do whatever physical therapy or medication he needed.”
Skenandore said he gets emotional when talking about Arndt, who now feels almost like a daughter to him, because of how big an impact she had on his recovery.
“I owe her a lot,” he said. “She pushed me like no other. When I came in I had to use a walker, and when I came out it was on my own two feet.”
Skenandore said he fished in the 2021 Sturgeon Bay Open Bass tournament in May, finishing 52 out of 148 boats.
He said he is now invited to the world championship in November, representing team First Nations.
Cass Terrance, First Nations captain, said this year the competition invited 73 anglers from countries and nations.
Terrance said the tournament was created by USA Bass anglers who hope to eventually see bass fishing added to the summer Olympics.
Skenandore said he believes he is the only participant from Wisconsin to be invited to the event.
Terrance said to be invited, anglers must fish often and somewhat competitively, even if they do not fish for a living, like many members on teams USA and Canada.
“With Shawn, I like that he puts himself in tournaments and has experience with these types of events,” he said.
Skenandore said to participate, he must raise funds, especially because he was out of work for the last year.
He has received three corporate sponsors so far – including GitchiGaming and local sponsors Ryan Funeral Home and Mavid Construction – but said he hopes to find a few more.
Skenandore also has a GoFundMe where people can donate to his world championship pursuit, at gofund.me/e0a0da67.
“We are the underdogs of the whole tournament, but any of the teams can win,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to prove. After what I’ve been through, I’ll be smiling either way.”