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The fight of his life: A former soldier’s battle with COVID


Kyle Keffer, by his own admission, is fearless.

"I’m 6’2, a big guy, I was in the military for 27 years," says the former Canadian soldier.

"I served in Afghanistan, over in Bosnia, and I’m not scared of anything. But I tell you, this scared the hell out of me."

"This" is COVID.  In May 2021, the virus took hold of Keffer in Ottawa.  It resulted in the fight of his life.

"I just started feeling really, really bad.  I had a lot of pain, no energy and a splitting headache," Keffer said.

"I was not understanding why I wasn’t getting any better.  It accelerated to the point where Joanne (now Keffer’s wife) was scared for my life."

"He was pale, didn’t want anything to eat and was mumbling.  I just didn’t like the way he looked and that led me to call an ambulance right away," Joanne Keffer said.

That call undoubtedly was the first step in saving Kyle’s life.

His oxygen levels were extremely low.  His condition was critical. 

Paramedics told Joanne to pack a bag for her partner.  They rushed Keffer to the emergency of Queensway Carleton Hospital.

In May 2021, Kyle Keffer tested positive for a severe case of COVID. In a medically- induced coma, he was placed on a ventilator at the Queensway Carleton Hospital for seven days. During a virtual conversation, Joanne asked Kyle if he could raise his hand if he was able to hear her. “I raised my hand. All I could do was lift my hand two inches so they knew I was alive inside,” said Kyle. (Supplied)

Doctors were uncertain he would make it.

"They said to me that my oxygen level is 42 per cent and that they’d have to put me in a coma and intubate me to keep me alive," Keffer said.

"I was told to call family members," says Joanne.

"The ER was unsure if he was actually going to pull out of this.  He was the worst ICU patient in the hospital at that time."

"An ER doctor called and asked if there were any words I wanted to say to him," says an emotional Joanne, recounting that day.

"I told him that I loved him and that he’d pull through and that the kids were rooting for him."

Joanne had never seen her partner so vulnerable.

“Twenty-seven years in the military, three deployments, there were two in Afghanistan, one in Bosnia, and sure enough COVID is about to take his life.”

"COVID is no joke," she says, her voice breaking.

Keffer doesn’t remember much about his time in hospital.  He was in an induced coma and on a ventilator for seven days.

He does recall, however, the tireless devotion of nurses, doctors and staff.

"I remember one of the nurses she looked at me and said ‘you’re not going to die on my watch.'"

Kyle Keffer, a father of four, kisses his youngest daughter. (Joel Haslam/CTV News Ottawa)

Keffer has one other vivid memory—a virtual call from Joanne and the couple’s three young children when in-person visits were still not permitted. 

"There was one day when I said, ‘Kyle, if you can hear me, just raise your hand,'" recalls Joanne.

"It’s the stuff you see in the movies, right? And he did," she says, tears filling her eyes.

"That’s the only part I remember.  I remember raising my hand, I raised it by two inches, so they knew I was alive in inside," Keffer said.

"I knew from there we were good,” says a smiling Joanne.

"He was going to come through."

Keffer was in ICU for seven days before being transferred to a general recovery and medicine wing at QCH.

Though still in a hospital bed, one of his first matters of business was to connect, virtually, with his loving partner.  

Though they already had children together, and had been living with each other for years, Keffer was determined to take his partnership with Joanne to another level.

"I called her and I said I want you to marry me," Keffer said.

"I said ‘yes’, of course," said a smiling Joanne.

Kyle Keffer proposed to Joanne from his hospital bed in recovery. “I remember I woke up and I called her and said “I want you to marry me. And she said ‘yes’,” he smiled. (Supplied)

A year after his health scare, Kyle and Joanne would have much to celebrate.

"We had a baby in June 2022 and we were married in August 2022," says a smiling Joanne.

"No more social distancing,” she laughs.

Keffer says he’s forever grateful to Joanne and his caregivers at QCH.

"They absolutely saved my life," he says.

"I’m so grateful to QCH staff, doctors, nurses, for what they did for me to be able to experience this again," he says.

"It’s humbling that you’ve got those kind of people around you that don’t even know you but care enough to get you home to your family." Top Stories

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