Of the more than 1,200 hospitalizations in Alabama related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bert Bloomston can claim a somewhat cautionary distinction: he was hospitalized twice.
But Bloomston – never one to look at a glass as half-empty – not only survived the potentially deadly virus; he manages to joke about it.
“Thank God, I’m being seen rather than viewed,” the 81-year-old quipped in a phone interview. “The good Lord really watched over me.”
His sunny disposition certainly hasn’t hurt his recovery. And his relatively strong constitution probably helped. A 25-time marathoner in his younger days, before being struck by COVID-19 Bloomston was a vigorous walker – 3 to 4 miles was his almost-daily routine. And he regularly hit the weights at Birmingham’s nonprofit Levite Jewish Community Center (LJCC), where he previously served as president.
He credits the staff at Grandview Medical Center, where he spent both hospital visits. “They were phenomenal – the nurses, the doctors, the administration. I sent a letter to their CEO so that he knows how great everyone was.”
The Grandview staff, who communicated often with Bloomston’s family throughout his two visits – the pandemic prevented any relatives or friends from seeing him – were just as thrilled to help with his recovery. Grandview shared a video on social media showing Bloomston’s triumphant exit from the facility, amid cheers from nurses, physicians and other hospital workers. Since it was posted April 23 on Facebook, the video has been viewed more than 91,000 times.
“Mr. Bloomston is a fighter,” said Doug Davis, a registered nurse at Grandview who was part of the team that provided his care. “He kept telling us that he used to run marathons and he was not going to let COVID beat him. You could tell he was a strong man and ready to go the distance.”
Bloomston’s internet popularity isn’t completely surprising. He’s got lots of friends after decades of selling industrial supplies. His last position, before retiring five years ago, was with Metro Trailer, where he called on contractors at job sites to determine their needs.
But Bloomston is also known for his many years of civic and charitable work in the Birmingham area. In addition to his volunteer leadership at the LJCC, Bloomston was vice president of the Birmingham Jewish Federation and vice president at Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El. During retirement, he’s probably better known as an enthusiastic volunteer for United Way of Central Alabama, where he delivers meals to homebound older people through the agency’s Meals on Wheels. He has such an avid following at United Way, the agency featured him in a story, video and poster to recruit more volunteers.
Maleia Tortorigi, volunteer coordinator for Meals on Wheels, has known Bloomston for years – back to when she was a teenage employee at a Birmingham-based retail chain where Bloomston was a manager. When she first saw his name on the volunteer list for Meals on Wheels, she was thrilled. “Part of my work ethic came from him,” she said.
Bloomston’s positive attitude and community activity is all the more remarkable considering the challenges at home. His wife, Lynn, suffers from dementia and requires a high level of care, and his catching COVID-19 didn’t make things easier.
One of his four adult children, Julius Bloomston, helped set up separate quarters in the lower level of the Bloomstons’ home while his father completed self-quarantine. Of that experience, Bloomston prefers to praise his wife’s professional caregivers, who put in extra hours to make sure her needs were met during his two rounds of isolation.
Bloomston won’t speculate where he may have picked up the virus, although he has provided contact information to health officials so they can track the potential path. When Bloomston first started feeling bad – mainly aches, pains and fever – he began sleeping in the den so others wouldn’t catch whatever he had. Over the next few days, as the virus took hold, it became obvious this was no ordinary cold or flu. “The fever got very high and I wasn’t able to think real well.” He called for an ambulance.
His first stint at Grandview was about a week long, although he can’t recall much, beyond the wonderful care he received – and the great views from his sun-filled room in the hospital tower.
Julius Bloomston said his father has always been “such a doer – it was difficult to get dad to understand the severity of it. He never wants to be a burden on anyone. The hardest part was not being able to be there.”
He, too, praised Grandview’s staff for keeping the family connected to his dad and apprised of his condition through multiple phone calls, including reassuring conversations with hospital social workers.
Bloomston remembers feeling fine when he was discharged from the hospital the first time. But after about four days home, he noticed congestion in his lungs. It didn’t take long until he began having difficulty catching his breath.
“I didn’t feel bad – I just couldn’t breathe.” He didn’t wait any longer before dialing 911. Then he phoned his son.
“I got a call from dad. He told me he was in the ambulance,” Julius Bloomston recalled.
“I’m on the oxygen. That’s what I needed,” Bert Bloomston told his son, rather nonchalantly via cellphone from the back of the ambulance as it cruised to Grandview.
Bloomston’s second go-round in the hospital was shorter, less than four days. He is now free of his 14-day quarantine, although he is taking it easy and sticking close to home. “I’m still a little breathy,” he said.
“He really has weathered through it by himself,” Julius Bloomston said. He attributes his dad’s recovery to the great care he received and his father’s “very positive energy.”
Indeed, Bloomston said it never crossed his mind – even while receiving oxygen in the ambulance (he was never on a ventilator) – that his body was grappling with a potentially fatal disease.
“I really didn’t have that inclination until after it was all done – that people are dying, and that I made it.”