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Area’s first infected couple reflects on life before and after illness

Courtesy Photo Bill Bowman, left, and his wife, Glenda, smile for a selfie on Wednesday in this photo provided by the couple. Glenda was the first resident in Northeast Michigan confirmed infected by COVID-19, and her husband tested positive shortly after.

ONAWAY — A year has come and gone for Glenda Bowman since she tested positive for COVID-19 and became Northeast Michigan’s first resident confirmed infected with the disease.

Today, Glenda, and her husband, Bill, who ended up in the hospital from the coronavirus, say they still live with the physical and emotional impacts of the illness.

Glenda, who works as a paramedic in Otsego County, tested positive for COVID-19 infection on April 3, 2020. Health officials reported her infection on April 6, the first for the region.

Health officials labeled Bill as a probable infection when he became ill because of his contact with his wife, and he tested positive shortly after Glenda. He was briefly hospitalized at McLaren Northern Michigan in Petoskey while infected, but was released in a few days.

After being sent home, he suffered a stroke and was readmitted.

As of Monday, Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle, and Alcona counties have recorded a combined more than 3,000 probable or confirmed infections and more than 100 residents died after being infected with the virus.

Glenda, 63, and Bill, 61, said they feel lingering effects of COVID-19 still today. Glenda said both get fatigued easily, suffer from shortness of breath, and experience lightheadedness.

Glenda said that, before COVID-19, she could walk seven miles a day, but, now, a distance of two or three miles challenges her.

“It has been a climb, for sure,” Glenda said. “It is a very slow process, and neither of us are back to being 100%. It’s been a long road back.”

The Bowmans thought it important to let the public know about the disease, and posted openly about their infection on Facebook. They quarantined as soon as symptoms began.

Because Glenda had worked with COVID-19-infected people at work, she knew how easily it could spread and understood the seriousness of its health impacts.

She said she received a lot of support and well-wishes, and, as the virus spread, people reached out to her for advice about their own infections.

“We still have people reach out to us to this day, but not as often, because people are much more educated about it now than back then,” Glenda said. “All I could really tell them was to get tested as soon as possible, because there are so many symptoms with it. I did what I could to help, and shared what I could from my own experiences.”

Both Glenda and Bill have received the coronavirus vaccine and are relieved to do so, they said. Glenda was given the Pfizer vaccine and suffered only small chills and a slight temperature for a couple hours, while Bill received the Moderna vaccine and was ill for about eight hours.

While they understand why some people are reluctant to get the vaccine, the Bowmans said they would recommend getting it. They said knowing they have almost no chance of getting infected again gives them peace of mind.

“I have dealt with it once, and don’t want to deal with it again,” Glenda said. “I’m not sure I would survive again.”

Early in the pandemic, many people shrugged off the severity of the disease and dismissed the likelihood it would impact them, the Bowmans said. Since the early days of the pandemic, they have seen a shift in that train of thought, and people take the recommended precautionary steps more seriously.

“I think most people were moved or touched by COVID in one way or another, and, as a result, they take it much more seriously now than before,” Bill said. “This has impacted everyone.”

Despite being vaccinated, Bill and Glenda say they still wear their masks in public, use social distancing, and practice good hygiene to help protect others.

As they continue to fully heal from their illnesses, Bill said the couple looks at things slightly differently than prior to the pandemic.

“I think it has changed our outlook on life and (we) appreciate it a little more,” Bill said. “Life is a precious thing and we can take it for granted. Life is delicate and is definitely worth living.”

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