RIDGWAY — “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
“There was never a horse that couldn’t be rode, never a cowboy that couldn’t be throwed.”
These are just a couple of Tom “T.O.” Fitch’s favorite quotes, which his daughter and sons have been keeping in mind throughout their father’s recent uphill battle with COVID-19.
Fitch is known in the Ridgway community for dedicating much of his life to making Elk County a better place, said his daughter, Meghan Fausset, who currently resides in North Carolina. His sons, Jamie Cobaugh and Kalen Fitch, live in Ridgway, and Kaleb Fitch lives in Franklin, Virginia. Fitch also has nine grandchildren.
Fitch is director of the Elk County Wilds Tourism Association, co-owner of The Summit Lodge and Grill and involved in many other endeavors, including the Ridgway-Elk County Chamber of Commerce, Ridgway Township Water Authority, Ridgway Main Street Program Committee and Ridgway Heritage Council, said Fausset, as well as the contracting business F&A Contracting.
Since the rapid decline in his health, due to the added stress on Fitch’s lungs, the family has been providing Facebook updates and encouraging the community to keep praying hard for him.
A prayer vigil was held in front of the Elk County Courthouse Dec. 30, drawing in nearly 80-90 people. The family watched it live to be cautious, Fausset said, amazed by all the support. The Facebook live video had around 4,000 views. Residents also turned on their porch lights as a sign of support, and several town churches have held prayer vigils for him.
Fitch started showing symptoms of sickness on Christmas Eve, Fausset said. He was having trouble breathing, and tested positive for COVID-19. His oxygen levels were decreasing rapidly, and he was admitted to Penn Highlands Healthcare in DuBois, where he was intubated, ventilated and heavily sedated.
Dr. Sandeep Bansal, medical director of The Lung Center and Intensive Care Unit at PHH in DuBois, as well as the nursing staff, went above and beyond for her father, Fausset said.
His children reached out to all his community contacts, she said, desperate for advice on how to help Fitch, not ready to quit. Many friends reached out to doctors everywhere, Fausset said, including all over the East Coast and in Ohio.
After securing a bed for him at Cleveland University, the family ran into an insurance hiccup. Then, a place was secured for him at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, where he was transferred via ambulance Saturday.
Fitch’s family wanted him to be at UPMC, Fausset added, since there would be more resources available, should the ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) progress rapidly.
At this point, her father’s condition is “status quo,” said Fausset. He is not doing well, and not deteriorating, but being on a ventilator is hard on the body. UPMC is trying different things, such as keeping him in the “prone position,” common with treating COVID patients, dialysis and supplementing certain vitamins.
The family is glad that Fitch is at UPMC Presbyterian, Fausset added, since her brothers are able to visit him for an hour a day, and he knows he is not alone. UPMC has been very aggressive with his care, too.
“Though his medical condition has not improved much, the interaction I am now allowed to have with him gives me great comfort, and I am sure him as well,” said Kalen Fitch in a Facebook update Jan. 3. “I am able to take my phone in with me, which allows all my siblings to speak to him virtually, and the grandkids to send recorded messages.”
Fausset has joked, she said, about her father being “Mr. Elk County.”
He has always taught them to never quit fighting, said Fausset, and that’s what they intend to do.
Cobaugh noted that it’s a special thing to live in a rural community, and the overwhelming support for his father has been inspiring to see.
Fitch’s family continues to post updates and encouraging messages on Facebook, thankful for the continued support and prayers.
“A local priest was in to anoint my father today at our request, so he is also getting personal pastoral care,” Kalen Fitch said in the Jan. 3 post. “We are hoping he is reserving some punches for us in the late rounds of this fight yet.”
The “GoFundMe” page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/team-to?.