SOMERVILLE, NJ - Her journey back from the brink of death was cause for celebration Monday as Ruth Ikan was discharged from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/Somerset with all the hoopla of a high school graduation party.
This was a special day not only for the South Amboy woman, but for the hard-working medical staff.who fought the battle with her for more than three weeks. Ikan is the 500th COVID-19 patient to be discharged by the hospital since it took in its first coronavirus case March 8th.
The "clap-out" began as soon as the elevator door opened.
Ikan's sister, Amelia de Asa-Weiland, a registered nurse and clinical coordinator at the hospital, guided her wheelchair towards the first floor lobby through a gauntlet of nurses, doctors, therapists, clinicians lab workers, technicians, housekeeping and other hospital personnel, all of them cheering and clapping their hands.
The farewell party had all the trimmings - yellow balloons, sunflowers, hundreds of cards with best wishes from kids taped to the walls and windows of the lobby, and yellow sunglasses.
Ikan's sanitary mask hid her smile, but the corners of her eyes crinkled as she waved, flashed the occasional peace sign and shared a "thumbs up" with her well-wishers.
The fond farewell featured a live rendition of "Here Comes the Sun" by Somerville musician Dave Dedrick. The George Harrison song has become an anthem of sorts to pay tribute to those who conquer the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The upbeat mood was in stark contrast to April 11th, when she was first admitted after being transferred to the acute care facility from another hospital, according to Tony Cava, RWJUH/Somerset president and CEO.
She spent 23 days in the hospital.
"There was an expectation that she might not survive," Cava said. "She was very, very sick in extended intensive care and was on a ventilator.
"She's got a road ahead of her to recover." he added, noting that the average stay for a recovering COVID-19 patient is 14-18 days.
Ikan's discharge, 56 days after the first COVID-19 admission at RWJUH/Somerset is one of the bright spots in an evolving pattern of good news in the hospital's battle against the coronavirus, which has claimed 250,000 lives nationwide, nearly 8,000 in New Jersey and 297 in Somerset County,
"Our survival percentage is better than what's seen around the country," Cava said, adding that the number of COVID-19 patients in-house has gone down 25 percent the last couple of weeks.
The number of new COVID-19 admissions has been lessening, according to Cava.
The hospital has been able to shut down one of its four COVID-19 in-patient units, and a second unit that how has 7-8 patients will be closed in a few days, according to Cava.
"We're definitely pointed in the right direction," Cava said.
There's also been a "dramatic" turnaround in COVID-19 testing results, according to Cava.
"When we were in the midst of this, we were seeing 50, 60 positive results, now it's 60, 70 negative."
Cava said he was unable to release the number of COVID-19 deaths at the hospital over the past two months, but did say the number was "significantly less" than the 500 discharges over the past 56 days.
The hospital administrator, who has been at RWJUH/Somerset since 2015, also had high words of praise for the hospital staff.
"I've got to tell you, the remarkable resiliency of our medical team has just been incredible, I've never seen anything like this, they keep coming back day after day," Cava said.
He proudly pointed out that over the past 56 days, fewer staff have called in sick than under normal circumstances.
He did offer a word of caution to those who might think that the worst is over.
"Because we're trending in the right direction, people can't stop what they've been doing," Cava said. "We have to continue to wear masks when out in public, practice social distancing, wash hands frequently and if you're sick stay home, It's the only way we're going to beat this thing. If we go back to the old habits it will flare up again.
"The lockdown enabled us to get to where we are."