COVID survivor

Retired Abilene doctor, Don Berkley, holds a calendar showing the timeline of the COVID-19 battle he and his wife Pat had. He spoke at the Abilene Rotary Club Friday.

While wearing masks is a must to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is not 100 percent effective.

Dr. Don Berkley told the Abilene Rotary Club Friday that he, his wife Pat, his daughter, sister-in-law and her daughter all were exposed and infected by the coronavirus as well as 20 other people, at a funeral visitation in Salina on June 23.

Berkley said he wore a mask the entire visitation. But not everyone did which contributed to the exposure.

“I don’t think anything we have is 100 percent,” Berkley said. “But now we have to wear a mask.”

He said the mask has become a societal issue. 

“We do have a responsibility to be our brother’s keeper and to prevent the spread of this as best we can,” he said. “We do need to keep using the mask. We do need to keep social distancing and we do need to hygiene.”

Berkley and his wife Pat were 85 years old at the time and are the oldest people in Abilene to test positive for the virus and recover.



He said “don’t touch your face” might not be the only answer to prevention.

“I don’t think those germs are going to go through the skin of your face. They may get in through your eyes and in through your nose and in through your mouth and get into your lungs and set up housekeeping,” he said.

He said Dr. Anthony Fauci first said masks only needed to be worn if you are sick.

“That piece of cloth is a filter and it filters both directions,” he said. “He was wrong there.”

He said that social distancing of six feet is a good “rule of thumb.”

“But there is nothing preventing my germs from reaching 12 feet,” he said. “Every time I speak requires a puff of air coming out of my lungs across my vocal cords and it projects toward you.” 

He described the spread of COVID-19 like a person smoking a cigarette. Anyone around that person could see and smell the cigarette smoke. 

“The virus does the same thing. You just can’t see it,” he said. “If I sing, or yell, or the wind is blowing in that direction you might get it in the back of the room. This virus particle can’t live unless it is in a cell but is infections as a particle and is smaller than smoke. 

“If I smoked a cigarette you would probably smell it there in the back of the room in a few minutes,” he said.

Only COVID-19 is odor free. The virus, similar to smoke, could fall on a table where someone could get it on their hands.

He said the funeral visitation was for an old high school buddy and friend of the family and brother of his sister-in-law who is 93 years of age.

“We just went to the visitation. We wore masks and used hand sanitizer. We tried to do our distancing but sometimes when you are hard of hearing, you might get up close to somebody who can’t hear either,” Beckley said. 



Symptoms didn’t start until 8 days after his exposure.

“On July 1 I started having symptoms,” he said. “I think they started having systems at that same time.”

He said his throat was sore and he had a tacky cough.

“I thought, ‘I wonder if I am coming down with the COVID.’ And I got a text later that day from a relative that attended that event that was sent out from the Saline County Health Department that said anybody who attended the visitation or who had gone to the funeral or funeral dinner the next day had been exposed,” he said. “Somebody there was sick and subsequently came down with it.”

He said he called into the emergency department at Memorial Hospital and the next day he and his wife Pat were tested.

“She wasn’t feeling ill at that time,” he said. 

Two days later his test results came back positive. Pat’s came back the next day as negative. 

“By this time she began to feel bad,” he said. 

She went back for a second test and it was positive. 

He said her symptoms started with the sore throat, hacking cough, aches and fever.

“I think my wife had it a little bit heavier than I did in some respects,” he said.

He didn’t suffer from a lack of taste or smell but she did.

On Friday of last week, over a month later, he said that he was almost over it and Pat was about 80 percent over the virus. 

The fever temperature ranged rom 99 to over 100.5.

By July 14 he was feeling better but they both went to the hospital for more tests. Pat was more breathless and was huffing and puffing. 

Twenty-one days after symptoms started, both were considered cured.

“I’ve improved but may still not be quite back to normal,” he said. “I may be 15, 20 yards off my drives (on the golf course). My wife likes to sleep more and rest. She is not recovering as well as I have.”

He said both feel a sense of “fogginess.”


The unknown

“There may be some things that are long lasting that we don’t know about yet,” he said. “We will know about it as the years go by.”

He said, in college he wrote a paper on Parkinson’s disease.

“It is believed that Parkinson’s was caused by the Spanish Flu in some cases,” he said of the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919. “The effects we are having now, may show up 10 years from now.

“My wife’s symptoms were different from mine. We don’t know the answers to all this yet,” Berkley said.

He said people constantly battle with forces external to the body that are trying to get into the body and make them sick.

“Human infections are constant,” he said. “Viruses happen to be intercellular. It can only live in another cell. It doesn’t have a life of its own. It gets its substance from the cell that it invades.”

Other organisms such as bacteria live outside of cells. 

“They live within the juices of our body but not within the cell,” he said. “The difference between bacteria and viruses is where they live within the body and how they affect us.”

He said the body has many good defense mechanisms. 

“The main one being the external surfaces of our body,” he said. “When you think of the external surface you think of your skin but external surface also involves the lining of the intestine.”

He said the lining of the external structure of the body, those being the eyelids, nasal passages and mouth are a portal for the invasion of the body. 

He said COVID-19 enters mainly through the nose and mucus membranes.

He said it spreads by coming out through the lungs, nose and mouth.

“It is a respiratory virus,” he said. 

“If the bug gets past the skin and into the mucus membrane, our body has other mechanisms like white blood cells, T cells, B cells that can fight off the virus somewhat,” he said. 

He said the body begins to produce antibodies. 

“Those antibodies became probably your major source of fighting off infection but they don’t begin until about 10 to 14 days after the exposure,” he said. “You get a vaccine. You don’t start development of antibodies until after the first 10 to 14 days before they begin to produce.”


Virus load

He said the amount of exposure, or virus load, is important. 

“I don’t know how many particles it takes to make you sick but it probably takes more than a few,” he said. “Those masks aren’t perfect. They are not going to filter out all of the viruses that are coming out of me and they are not going to filter out all of the viruses coming into me. Air gets around the edges.”

However, he said, the masks are important.

“Once we get the infection we begin to shed the virus,” he said.

He said herd immunity is when 70 to 75 percent of the population is immune. 

“The other 30 percent wouldn’t be able to carry on an epidemic. It doesn’t go away,” he said. “There would still be periodic cases of the disease popping up.”

He said throughout history there have been communicable diseases dating back to Biblical times and leprosy.

“You were unclean. You had to isolate yourself. You had to quarantine yourself to protect the rest of society,” he said. “It didn’t clear up the leper. Leprosy is caused by germs like tuberculosis. Now we treat it with antibiotics,” he said. 

He said there were once tuberculosis sanitariums.

“Places to isolate people to quarantine them to protect the rest of society from their disease,” he said. 

He said two days before he started showing symptoms, he made homemade ice cream. He delivered it to harvesters on the Monday and Tuesday before he got sick on Wednesday.

He said he gave all of those names he had contact with to the Dickinson County Health Department.

“To my knowledge, none of those got it,” he said. “It was outside. The wind was blowing 20 miles per hour and it was 100 degrees.”

Dr. Steve Schwarting who was in the audience, said COVID-19 is a new disease. Other diseases have been studied for decades.

“How long does it stay on a surface? How does it spread? How many particles do you need? All of this is a new disease. There will be things talked about now that won’t be true. There are things we didn’t think were true that will be true later,” he said. 

Contact Tim Horan at

Contact Tim Horan at

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