Biddeford resident Dan Bastarache, pictured with his wife Denise, recently came down with COVID-19. Test results released April 21 show he no longer has the disease. Courtesy photo

BIDDEFORD — For some time now, medical experts have been warning the public that the novel coronavirus is stealthy, seemingly healthy people can spread the disease long before symptoms of the disease show up, if ever.

That seems to have been the case for how one local man contracted COVID-19.

Biddeford resident Dan Bastarache says he never came in contact with anyone who seemed sick. However, the proprietor of Bastarache Insurance in Biddeford says he is an affectionate man who likes to hug friends and family and hold out his hand to shake when greeting people.

Whether it was from contact with someone who was asymptomatic or some other way, it was early in the days of COVID-19 spread in Maine, March 14, when he noticed the first symptoms.

“I started with a dry cough and a fever,” Bastarache, who has been cleared of the disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a telephone interview on Friday, May 1.

He said he called his primary care doctor, but because of COVID-19, the office was no longer seeing patients with pulmonary issues, so he was told to go to an urgent care clinic or the local emergency room.

On March 16, Bastarache went to the ER at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and was tested for COVID-19.

“I thought it was worth doing because I have diabetes and am a cancer survivor,” Bastarache said. According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes have much higher rates of more severe symptoms and complications from the disease than non-diabetics.

It wasn’t until March 29 that heard back from the CDC that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was a Sunday morning. I had just watched Mass,” Bastarache said. “They (the CDC) asked me to stay isolated.”

He said he was home but isolated from his wife, Denise and his two 17-year-old sons, none of who have contracted the disease.

While home, Bastarache said he was managing his disease by taking cough medicine and Tylenol.

“… until April 7th. Then I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I went back to the emergency room.”

Bastarache was admitted to SMHC and brought to the Special Care Unit where he stayed, with no visitors, until April 13.

Though he was never placed on a ventilator, he was given oxygen and a chest X-ray revealed he had developed pneumonia so he was also treated with antibiotics.

Although a second COVID-19 test again came back positive, doctors said it could be a false positive from dead coronavirus cells that remained in his system. Bastarache was released and was treated via telemedicine.

Finally, on April 20, another test was administered and on April 21 the results came back negative for the disease.

The CDC contacted Bastarache and told him he didn’t have to be in isolation any more.

“I still practice social distancing,” he said, “but I don’t have to sleep on the easy chair any more.”

While he is disease-free and breathing easier, Bastarache said he’s still trying to get his strength back. “I lost about 20 lbs.” during his illness, he said. He also continues the physical therapy exercises he was given when he came home.

In all, after his ordeal he said, “I’m pretty much feeling great.”

Bastarache said he’s thankful to so many for his recovery.

The nurses at SMHC “were phenomenal,” he said.

The practicing Catholic added, “I had a lot of people praying for my recovery. I feel the power of prayer is what helped me get through this.”

He said he’s grateful none of his family members contracted COVID-19 and said his wife “has been my strength.”

Denise Bastarche is thrilled her husband is so much better but still feels the strain from the worry of wondering whether he would make it.

“It was scary when I dropped him off,” at the ER, she said while holding back tears. “It was scary not knowing.” She said she was so grateful to have him back and that the two were able to celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary the week after he left the hospital.

Both said one of the scariest parts of the disease is that they had no idea how he contracted the virus.

“I have no idea,” Dan Bastarache said. “I don’t remember coming in contact with anyone who had the disease.”

“We have no idea where it came from,” his wife said, “church, the grocery store, a door knob.”

“There’s a lot on the internet about this being fake or phony,” Dan said. He said he’s living proof that it’s not and that “it’s life-threatening.”

During his illness and since testing negative Dan said, his faith has helped him cope with his disease. For those like him he said, “the power of prayer. I can’t just stress that enough.”

In addition, however, he says he follows the protocol the CDC advises such as practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing, and other advice.

Denise, a school bus driver who hasn’t worked since March 13 when schools closed, said she’s still afraid and ventures out only as necessary for  groceries and other essentials.

“I go out once a week and it’s total stress for me the whole time,” she said.

“I don’t think people understand it unless they live through it,” Denise said. “A lot of people aren’t taking it seriously. I don’t think a lot of people understand the severity of the thing.”

Like her husband, she said people should follow the CDC protocol including wearing a face mask.

“It’s a new normal,” Denise said, “and it’s not going to be easy.”

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