Former Notre Dame QB Terry Hanratty shares his journey toward recovery from COVID-19

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

Editor’s Note: Former Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty, who led the Irish to the 1966 national championship, recently shared his harrowing experience of contracting COVID-19 with fellow 1969 ND grads John Hickey and Bob Gibbons.

The story was first published in the Notre Dame Class of 1969 blog, started three years ago to coordinate the class’ 50th reunion and revived this spring to tell the stories of ND alums — many of whom are in the medical profession — and their journeys related to the coronavirus.

They have graciously allowed us to republish it in our print edition and on our website.

Terry Haratty contracted COVID-19 in March and was hospitalized in Connecticut, where he lives. He spent six days in the Norwalk Hospital with both double pneumonia and the coronavirus, so in his words, “I got my money’s worth.”

But, by mid-April, he was back home in New Canaan.

“I got a chance to walk outside with my daughter with both of us wearing masks, and keeping the proper distance,” he said. “We took a little stroll up the street and came back, and it was great. I hadn’t been able to do that for weeks.”

This is Hanratty’s story.

By John Hickey and Bob Gibbons

“I have a great doctor here in New Canaan, and I see her every three weeks to get a B-12 shot,” he said. “I’ve never had a reaction to it in the past, but one night after a shot in March, I felt weird.

“Then the next day, the headaches, the fever, and the diarrhea started. I waited a day to see if they would subside, but they got worse. I checked my temperature; it was 103 degrees. So I called my doctor, and she made an appointment for me to get the COVID-19 test, and also gave me a prescription for the medication — hydroxychloroquine and a Z-pak.

“She said, ‘Take the test and start the medication. If it’s negative, you can stop. If it’s positive, keep going.’ I was really sick.''

Fortunately, tests were available where he lives in Connecticut.

“She got me an appointment to be tested the next day — which was five days before I entered the hospital. Believe me, one of the most uncomfortable things you ever want to do is to take that test.

“They stick that swab so far up your nostril that it feels like they’re scratching your brain. And they do it twice, because they have to go up both nostrils. It only takes about three seconds per nostril, but I’ll tell you, it’s about six seconds of ‘Whoa, let’s not do this anymore.’”

It could have been even worse.

“When this whole pandemic started, I was pretty cautious. Every time I went to the grocery store, I brought my own bags. I kept my distance from people. So I thought I was doing everything the right way.

“But I’m 72 and a former smoker. The person who changed everything was my daughter, Erin. Three years ago, she convinced me to quit smoking. Had I still been smoking, I probably would not have survived any of this.”

His test was positive, and his doctor tried to treat him at home, but that didn’t work.

“I was not getting better. So my doctor asked me to meet her in the parking lot of her office building early one morning. She said, ‘Don’t come into the building.’ She came out with all her garb on and took my oxygen level.

“Normal should be 95 or 96. Mine came in at 85. And my temperature was 103.2. She said, ‘You’re going to the hospital.’

“I was still in my pajamas — I had just gotten out of bed. She called an ambulance — and four hours later, I was in a hospital room on oxygen. I had a tank behind the bed with two things going into my nostrils. They were trying to get my level up to a normal level.”

Terry believes he was lucky that he was not on a ventilator.

“I didn’t realize what ventilators did to you. We keep hearing, ‘We need more ventilators,’ and you figure this is something that’s basically a lifesaver — but it can be just the opposite.

“If you’re on it, you’re in really bad shape; very few make it off successfully. So I’m very fortunate that I didn’t need one.

“At the beginning of my hospital stay, probably the worst part for me was I just could not stay warm. I would wake up in the middle of the night and had four blankets on me, and I was looking for more. But everything they talk about in terms of the doctors and the nurses and everything they do for you in the hospital, for me, I would multiply all that by 10.

“I was basically in quarantine in the Norwalk Hospital. I could not leave my room, and the only people allowed in my room were my doctors and nurses. But they were just wonderful. With a combination of medication and oxygen, they got me back home.

Even then, he had to be brought home by ambulance and carried into the house.

“When I came home, the EMTs carried me up the steps to my home — I didn’t have enough strength to walk by myself, even with their support. I had lost 16 pounds, but I’m still 200 pounds — and I was wondering, ‘Is this going to work?’

“I worried that the guy who was going to get hurt the most was me coming out of the little chair they had and falling back down the steps. But they got me inside. And we had the oxygen people come in that day, to my room at home, and set up the oxygen for me and got me hooked up.

“And a day later, I’m walking around and starting to feel a little better. And every day, I’m checking my oxygen levels . . . 91 . . . 92 . . . oh man, is this ever going to get up?''

But, he never seriously considered the downside.

“I had the attitude — I’m sick; I feel like I have a bad flu, but I have the medication and I’m in the hospital, so I’m going to be fine. It never really entered my mind that things could get a lot worse.

“While I was going through this, I never once thought of the negative side. It was only after I got out of the hospital and I’ve been watching everything in the media and seeing the numbers of people dying that I’ve begun to wonder: ‘How close was I?’''

Now, he may have a different role.

“I just found out that my doctor wants me to go and give blood, because now I may be able to help people because my plasma has antibodies, so I’ll call the hospital at the beginning of next week and donate my services.

So, how long is his incubation period expected to be?

“We’re never really sure exactly when I contracted the virus. We have it traced back to around March 24, but we could be off three or four days. Now, it’s April 14 — three weeks later — and I still have to be in the house with a mask on and be careful what I touch.

“Until today, my wife or daughter would bring my meal up and knock on my door. I’d wait until they left, open the door with a napkin, get my dish, eat the food, and put it back. Today, I had my first lunch in the family room, and that was a joy.

“But people have to realize, this does not leave quickly, and it could come back. My doctor wants me to wear my mask for another two weeks. By the end of April, I should be beyond this — but that will be five weeks. Incubation used to be 14 days; now, it’s up to 30 days.

In quarantine, he’s getting a bit bored with television, and he misses his freedom.

“I love golf, but I called a buddy of mine (Jim Rohr, Class of ’70), Notre Dame guy who belongs to Augusta, and I said, ‘You keep saying you’re going to take me to Augusta, but I don’t think you need to, because I’ve seen about 12 tournaments on the television and I know every hole by heart.

“I don’t need to go there and walk them. And I’m tired of wearing this mask; I’m breathing back my own air, so it’s always warm. I go outside, and it fogs up my glasses.

“I miss normality, but we may not get that back for a long, long time. I think it may be as long as 18 months before this thing is really, really under control. I think we have the greatest scientists in the world, but it will take a lot of research for them to find a drug to cure his thing.''

He doesn’t believe this will be completely over anytime soon.

“There is still a lot that is happening out there. Even after the pandemic peaks, it’s going to be very dangerous coming down that hill on the backside. One of the big challenges is we are now coming up on the summer season where, on the Eastern Seaboard at least, everybody goes to the ocean.

“How are they going to keep all those people off the beach and keep them six feet apart? And even for the fall, I still have my house in South Bend, and I have two games rented. And I’m thinking, ‘Will Notre Dame play — and do I want people in my house?’ There is so much we don’t know.''

His advice to others is basic.

“Keep your hands clean. Separate yourself from people. Don’t do anything risky, because this thing can kill you. Normally, when you get the flu, you’re laid up for three or four days, you lose three or four pounds, and you’re happy because you lost some weight.

“But with this, you just have to be so cautious of everything you do. But I’m hopeful. We have great minds who are working on a solution to this, and they’re working 24/7, and all the drug companies are working towards a common goal, so I think that’s a big factor.

“The real stars of this are the doctors and the nurses and EMTs and the people in the hospitals. They are surrounding themselves with very sick people; some are getting sick and dying themselves, but they’re the real heroes of all this.''

Still, Terry really believes that society needs to err on the cautious side.

“Looking forward, I think people will divide into two different segments — those who didn’t get it and those who did. I think those who didn’t get it will be cautious once they say movie theaters, restaurants, stadiums are open.

“But I think those of us who had it will be even more cautious, because I don’t believe it will be possible to ever completely obliterate this, and I don’t think any of us will ever forget how serious this is.

“It will take a lot to get me back into a restaurant, back into an arena of any sort, or any big crowd of people. The way and the speed with which it has spanned our world is scary. I’ve felt the pain that goes with that.”

Former Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty, a 1969 ND grad, is back at home in New Canaan, Conn., after surviving a bout with COVID-19.
Former Notre Dame QB Terry Hanratty (left) shared a moment with son Conor back in 2009. Conor eventually came to ND and played on the offensive line.