HOUSTON — If the Devil had a checklist, Neala Fogarty has marked way too many boxes in the past nine months.
Yet the Houston-area middle school teacher is choosing to think of her very difficult and painful times as challenges she and her family have overcome with the help of the community.
She says they prove that there are good people and hope in this world.
Fogarty’s level of positivity sounds almost unbelievable, especially after you hear her full story and take into account the less-than-great 2020 most of us have been experiencing.
But listening to Fogarty, it’s clear she’s making a choice to be positive, hopeful and grateful. She was adamant that she’s sharing her story because she wants others to be hopeful too.
Bad news ... then worse
Many of our lives are punctuated by dates, many special, as we choose to remember birthdays, wedding, anniversaries. Fogarty lights up when she talks about Joe, her husband of 22 years this November.
“I couldn’t function in life without him,” she said.
Fogarty’s life is also punctuated by many challenging dates. She clearly remembers the date, the year and the place where she heard the good or bad news.
Aug. 2, 2018: Her husband was diagnosed with MDS -- Myelodysplastic syndrom -- preleukemia.
May 19, 2020: He’s diagnosed with COVID-19 and taken straight to ICU.
“He was coughing and he was running fever,” Fogarty said. “The doctor's telling me to prepare my family for him to not come home.”
May 23: Fogarty, a diabetic, is taken to the same hospital, fighting to breathe.
“Every breath you took, it was like your lungs were being (put) in a shredder," Fogarty said. "I mean, I've had pneumonia before. This was like nothing I've ever had before."
Fogarty said her teenage daughter Bronwyn was tested, too, but came back negative.
While her two parents were hospitalized with coronavirus, Bronwyn’s Houston Christian High School community organized a meal train to make sure Bronwyn was taken care of. And even though she had to miss her actual graduation ceremony because of her parents’ COVID-19 diagnosis, Fogarty said the school still made the day special for her.
Fogarty describes her family as faith-filled people. She said her friends and the church community were praying for her, every step of the way and especially as she and her husband were fighting for their lives, separated by just one hospital floor.
'Every test ... had been thrown at us'
Joe Fogarty was released first. Doctors allowed him to briefly see his wife -- yet another date Fogarty recalls.
“We hadn’t seen each other since May 19,” she said, “and this was, I think, May 30. We hadn’t seen each other since then. And it was quite emotional. ... We felt like every test that could possibly be thrown at us has been thrown at us."
By the time the Fogartys were at the hospital, their friend of 22 years and contractor George Gazis, of Gazis Inc., was making sure the work on the couple’s home continued. Fogarty said the couple was getting construction updates in the hospital room.
Gazis was working on the couple’s home because of what happened on another memorable date in Fogarty family history: Nov. 19, 2019.
The week before Thanksgiving the family home burned down along with their five pets. Fogarty said investigators determined it was a faulty dishwasher installation.
Neala Fogarty's pets that died in fire
"This happened on Tuesday and our anniversary was on Thursday. What an anniversary,” Fogarty laughed, “one I would like to forget, but it's all ... part of your story. That's who you are.”
'We beat the odds'
But Fogarty is choosing to focus on the triumphant parts of her family story.
“We beat the statistics,” she said, “we beat the odds. Neither one of us should have walked out of the hospital and we did! That alone is Hope with a capital H. My husband and I can stand through it all and say that there is still hope and that there are still compassionate and kind people.
“My husband and I survived this horrible, wicked virus that other people seem to think it's a hoax. It's not. I'm here to tell you right now, it is real,” Fogarty added.
She hopes that others who maybe struggling now can see the light too.
“If my voice can be a voice of hope to let people know that you can survive this, you can survive anything, then that's why I'm here,” she said. “We could not have done this on our own. We are so thankful and blessed for the gift of everybody that has stepped up and came forward: strangers -- virtual strangers (whom) we did not know -- lifted us up and carried us. And I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The family is hoping to move back into their rebuilt home around Thanksgiving.
“God’s not going to give me more than I can handle,” she said. “I have to keep reminding myself, especially this year. I know that if we can handle a fire and we can handle being in the hospital with (COVID) and surviving it, we can handle anything as long as we’re together.”