Susan Barwacz, 76, has been a patient at the Spectrum Health Rehab and Nursing Center Fuller Avenue for nearly two-and-a-half years.

Her medical journey started with ulcers in her stomach, then GI bleeding, and then she needed 54 pints of blood. After being semi-comatose for three months, she has been working to get back to walking ever since.

Susan’s husband, Ron, is devoted.

When COVID-19 visitor restrictions kept Ron from seeing his wife in March of 2020, he started sitting in the parking lot every day to visit virtually. He calls her on the cell phone to talk about how her day is going and even reads her books over the phone.

Susan knew he’d be parked outside in his orange Chevrolet Z-71 pickup truck, seven days a week, for several hours at a time. He became a constant cheerleader for her, separated by a pane of glass and a bit of earth.

“I can’t imagine my husband sitting out in a truck for that long just to talk to me,” joked Stacie Carter, quality of life supervisor at the nursing center. She shared her admiration for the devotion the couple has for one another.

Susan’s bed is positioned right next to the window so she can look down into the parking lot to see Ron sitting by her side every day.

“I can hardly wait for in-person visits to start again,” Susan said more than a month ago. “It has been very difficult to be here without any contact with my family.”

Learning to walk

Standing and walking are Susan’s most important goals and she has been working at it for some time.

When going from lying on the bed to sitting and then standing went from a two-person job to just one, Susan’s clinical staff decided the time had come for her to work on taking her first steps.

Rain, snow or shine, Ron stood outside watching every move through the windows as she worked with her rehab team.

All while staff gave him the play-by-play over the phone.

Pia Mileski, a rehab technician at the nursing center, works regularly with Susan on movements, going from sitting to standing, and working in and out of sitting position.

“We know everything about each other,” she said with a smile.

The rehabilitation process takes time and commitment.

“You can really see the positive change today as she sits on her own and is about to take her first steps,” Pia said.

“I’m going to get out of here,” Susan said as she prepared to stand. “You believe me, I’ll be going home some day soon.”

Ron remained laser focused as he looked in through a set of large windows.

“Next thing you know she’ll be doing the hula hoop,” he joked.

And with that, Susan had taken her first steps in nearly two years.

The sunshine broke out behind Ron as a big smile lit his face.

“It has been very hard to be separated,” he said as he broke down into tears. “Moments like this remind me that she will be coming home.”

“I look forward to giving her a hug and a kiss again,” he said. “I miss cooking for her and taking her out for a good meal. We hope to be doing that some day soon.”

Their first kiss all over again

Fast forward a few weeks, and visitation rules eased at skilled nursing facilities for fully vaccinated spouses.

The two got to see each other in-person for the first time in well over a year.

“It is great, it’s just wonderful,” Ron said as he grabbed ahold of Susan and gave her a big kiss.

The two will be able to visit in-person every Friday moving forward, and are excited to say the least.

“There are so many people in situations like this,” Susan said. “They need to see their relations, their wives, their kids… it’s good for everyone’s psychological well-being, and I am very grateful.”