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Colorado VA's first COVID-19 patient celebrates Veterans Day by being grateful

Living 35 days on life support, Reverend Terrance Hughes, or Pastor T, as many know him, survived COVID-19, and wanted to thank the VA for his recovery.

DENVER — While there won't be parades or big celebrations for our veterans this year due to safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are still honoring veterans in their own ways.

That can sometimes be as simple as saying 'thank you.' 

One local Air Force veteran, who almost lost his life to COVID-19 earlier this year, is particularly grateful this Veterans Day.  

"This year has been a whole lot of grateful firsts," said well-known minister Rev. Terrance Hughes. "Grateful to be alive. So many of my brothers and sisters didn't make it."

Hughes is a pastor at New Covenant Christian Church in Denver, a local civil-rights leader and an eight-year Air Force veteran. The "brothers and sisters" to whom Hughes is referring, are those who did not survive their battle with COVID. 

"More than 230,000 didn't make it. But we are two of those who did," Hughes said of himself and his wife, Rachel, who was also diagnosed with the virus earlier this year. "We're so grateful," he said. 

Credit: KUSA

It was March when Hughes became the first COVID-19 patient at the Veteran's Affairs (VA) hospital in Aurora. 

"I was on life support for 35 days," he said. "All my major organs were shutting down or already had. I went from being intubated, having a trach and being in a coma for 60 days, to learning how to walk again."

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The reverend was in the ICU for so long, even doctors said it was extraordinary that the day came he could leave the hospital in May.

All of that makes this Veterans Day that much more special for Hughes and his wife. 

"Life is different. But at least he's still experiencing being alive," said Rachel Hughes. "That's one thing that could be different this Veterans Day. I could be going to the gravesite to put flowers on his grave today. I'm just so grateful that he's here to celebrate."

"I just want to tell the other veterans, even as a fellow veteran, how thankful I am for their service," Terrance Hughes said.

Terrance and Rachel Hughes said they are especially grateful to the VA hospital for saving the reverend's life. 

"If you have mental health challenges or you're not quite sure where you're able to benefit, plug into that regional VA center," said Hughes. "It saved my life. And it can save yours."

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