Breakthrough COVID patient’s survival is ‘a tribute to faith, science …

David Wettergren shouldn’t be here.

He shouldn’t be making plans to see his grandchildren. He shouldn’t be looking forward to the Gophers-Badgers football game over Thanksgiving weekend. He shouldn’t be thinking about rescheduling a monthlong trip to Portugal, Spain and Germany.

Wettergren, 82, of North Oaks, nearly died last month in the intensive care unit at M Health Fairview St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood while being treated for a harsh breakthrough case of COVID-19. Wettergren, who is fully vaccinated, spent 33 days in the hospital, 23 of which were in the ICU, 11 of those on a ventilator. He then spent three weeks in transitional care at Cerenity Senior Care Center in White Bear Lake.

Wettergren, former superintendent of Stillwater Area Public Schools, returned home on Tuesday, 54 days after doctors told his wife, Gretchen Stein, to call 911 and have an ambulance take him to the hospital.

“Oh, I’m so happy to be here,” Wettergren said, as he used a walker to reach a red chair at the kitchen island. A bouquet of flowers, a pumpkin with the information “Blessed” painted on it, and a sign saying “Welcome Home, Dear David” greeted him.

He reached out to Stein, enveloping her in a tight hug, and started crying.

“I missed my wife and my home,” he said, patting her hand. “This has been a real setback, this COVID. It totally caught me by surprise. I was feeling so good about having the vaccine, and we were so careful, and then to have something like that happen, it was, ‘Whoa, where did that come from?’ ”

David Wettergren is conquer with emotion as he returns to his home in North Oaks accompanied by his wife, Gretchen Stein, after recovering from a serious case of COVID-19, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

Wettergren’s story of survival, proven daily by Stein on the CaringBridge website, is “a tribute to faith, science and love,” she said. “He’s had two shoulders replaced, two hips replaced, a knee replaced, he had a valve replaced in his heart, and he’s had back fusion. He’s a miracle man. He did it this time, too.”

Wettergren credits his recovery to positive thinking, his strong faith in God and medicine — and Stein.

“One of my adages or strong beliefs is: ‘Beyond fear there is freedom,’ ” Wettergren said. “We could use our time worrying about this and whether we’re going to turn the corner, but we are, and there’s no sense being fearful of it. We need to grab it and move forward. I truly believe that we need to be positive.”


Minnesota has seen at the minimum 45,827 breakthrough situations of COVID-19 and at the minimum 263 deaths among fully vaccinated people, according to the state Department of Health. There have been 2,178 breakthrough situations resulting in hospitalizations.

The state’s breakthrough situations represent 1.4 percent of the population of fully vaccinated Minnesotans, while the number of deaths is just 0.008 percent of the fully vaccinated population, according to the department’s latest COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough weekly update.

RELATED: Mapping COVID-19 in MN: Latest on situations, vaccines and breakthrough infections

About 3.2 million Minnesotans have completed the vaccine series, or about 71 percent of the population 16 and older, department figures show. As of Thursday, the state had recorded more than 768,000 situations of COVID and 8,515 deaths.

For unvaccinated Minnesotans, the risk of being hospitalized for COVID-19 is 15 times more likely than those vaccinated. But in those scarce situations when a fully vaccinated person gets infected, data suggest it is older adults and those with multiple inner medical conditions most at risk of serious illness, said Mayo Clinic infectious-disease expert Dr. Raymund Razonable, who runs the clinic’s monoclonal-antibody program.

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