LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Ronald Pipkins, Nevada’s first patient to test positive for COVID-19, left the North Las Vegas VA medical center to the cheers of VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System (VASNHS) staff on April 20. Nearly two months after testing positive with the virus, and three weeks since awakening from a coma, Pipkins is transferring to a local medical rehabilitation facility.
“It feels fantastic,” Pipkins said. “I hate to leave, I made a lot of friends, but I’ve got to go and see my family.”
Pipkins has inspired staff and Veterans alike with his strength and perseverance, even receiving recognition over a phone call from Nev. Gov. Steve Sisolak. “I never thought I’d be famous just for being alive,” Pipkins said. “But I hope that I can make people realize how serious this virus is. I wish no one would get this disease. This is a terrible virus because once it gets ahold of you, it really tries to take you out.”
The 55-year-old Marine Corps Veteran was admitted to the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center March 2 for pneumonia. After developing a fever, he was tested for COVID-19, and within 24 hours, his results came back as a presumptive positive. He spent much of the last month on a ventilator in a medically induced coma while battling the illness. He said prayer is what got him through that dark time.
Since regaining consciousness and two consecutive negative COVID tests in early April, Pipkins has undergone intense rehabilitation with VASNHS physical and occupational therapists. “My recovery has been really strong,” Pipkins said. “It’s all coming together and once I get to rehab, I know that I’ll pick up the pace.”
He said the hardest obstacle to overcome next is regaining strenght.
"My stamina is really what’s failing me. I don’t have a lot of stamina for walking. I can walk but eventually I’m going to have to lay down," he said.
And while Pipkins is excited to continue on his road to recovery, he appreciates the life-saving care he’s received at the North Las Vegas VA medical center. “I’m grateful I’m at the VA because the people here have waited on me hand and foot,” Pipkin said. “The staff here are very professional and I’m really proud of the service I’ve received here.”
Pipkins urges Americans to not take COVID-19 lightly. “Listen to the health professionals. A lot of people think it won’t get them, but if it gets you, you will feel some very painful things happening to your body. So I tell you, ‘put on the mask. Going to work is not as important as living. It’s better to be broke and alive than to have money and be dying’.”