Grand Forks’ Bruce Gjovig, off COVID ventilator, looks to recovery
“I’m very fortunate to be alive,” he said.
GRAND FORKS — After a long hospitalization with COVID, Bruce Gjovig — a longtime political and business figure in Grand Forks — is awake, talking and giving interviews again.
But most important: he’s still alive, something he attributes to the praying support of the community. In recent weeks, he said, he’s been overwhelmed by the support he’s received from well-wishers — “even the Democrats,” the conservative said, noting that community leaders of all stripes have expressed hope for a speedy recovery.
“I’m not exactly excited about sharing private health matters,” he said. “But I feel a little bit of an obligation with people praying and being so helpful.”
Gjovig first developed viral symptoms in mid-November after returning from a visit to the Washington, D.C., area, he said in an interview this week. He tested positive for COVID and checked himself into Altru Hospital within days of his return. Not long after, he was placed on a ventilator for 12 days.
Gjovig’s case is a remarkable one in that he survived his ventilator support. One of his most notable memories from his hospitalization is of a dim prognosis.
“The doctor was examining me, and I heard him say, ‘We need to be prepared to call the next of kin.’ And my response was, this is it? And I have to be honest with you: my fight kicked in.”
But by mid-December, he said, he had been moved to his current location at a transition care facility in Grand Forks, where he’s receiving occupational and physical therapy to regain his strength. His most optimistic recovery estimate, he said, has him returning to a more normal everyday life within several weeks.
“The progress I’ve made so far says I might be able to make that,” he said. “But it’s not a guarantee.”
Gjovig is well known as a conservative voice in Grand Forks politics, as a civilian liaison with the Air Force and as the former leader of UND’s Center for Innovation. He says he is “all for” vaccines, though he has often shared criticism of a federal vaccine mandate on social media and has at least once shared information questioning the vaccines’ safety.
Gjovig said he had not been vaccinated against COVID prior to contracting the virus in November, though he felt that a previous, more mild case had granted him a degree of immunity. Since his hospitalization, he said he has received a “booster" shot and said he’s receptive to more COVID vaccinations in the future.
But medical experts stress that natural immunity is not strong as a vaccine, which those experts say is still one of the best ways for Americans to protect themselves from the virus. Johns Hopkins University medical officials note that immunity from a mild case of COVID might not grant “strong natural immunity,” and the CDC noted in October that a vaccination after a COVID infection can reduce risk even more.
So how is Gjovig doing now?
“There are two answers to that,” he said. “When I’m sitting or lying down, I’m like the old Bruce Gjovig. I’m feeling good, no pains, no aches, my mind is clear, everything is good. So that’s the good news. But when I exert any effort, I get winded very easily. COVID did a number on my lungs. Getting respiratory therapy and getting my wind back, my breathing back, is the most important part of my recovery,”
Gjovig acknowledged that his chances of ever making it off a ventilator were slim — 10%, he said.
“I’m very fortunate to be alive,” he said. “Very fortunate.