Former state senator Ted O’Brien heads home after nine-week hospitalization for COVID-19

May 27, 2020

Ted O’Brien, a former New York state senator and current assistant state attorney general for the Rochester region, went home on Wednesday after spending nine weeks fighting COVID-19 in two different hospitals.

O’Brien, who entered Rochester General Hospital on March 24, endured three weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma.

As a result, he said, his recovery had to start with the basics.

Therapists helped O’Brien learn how to breathe on his own again so he could wean himself off the ventilator. He had to relearn how to swallow.

O’Brien moved from RGH to Unity Hospital in Greece for his rehabilitation. 

“After being in a coma where all the muscles in your body are paralyzed, you have a great amount of atrophy of your muscles. And, so after I came out of the coma, I couldn’t even roll over, much less stand or take a step.”

Ted O'Brien, the assistant state state attorney general for the Rochester region, flashes a thumbs-up as he leaves Unity Hospital in Greece after 68 days hospitalized for COVID-19.
Credit Max Schulte / WXXI News

But, demonstrating the extent of his recovery, after he talked to reporters from a wheelchair outside Unity, O’Brien stood up and walked the few steps to the family car waiting at the curb.

With a smile, a wave and a thumbs-up -- and a couple toots of the horn by his wife, Sue, at the wheel -- the O’Briens headed home to Irondequoit.

O’Brien’s recovery will continue at home, said Dr. Cecilia Ransom, who worked with him through his rehabilitation at Unity.

Ransom echoed the comments of doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who said Tuesday that the newness of COVID-19 means clinicians are still learning about how best to treat it.

“We’ve learned from Ted and his family. We learn from what’s happened in New York City and around the world,” Ransom said.

Ted O'Brien, center, speaks with reporters outside Unity Hospital in Greece. O'Brien spent 68 days in hospitals for COVID-19 treatment.

Ventilators are not a cure for COVID-19. They buy time for the patients’ bodies to fight off the virus. 

Ransom said that’s what happened for O’Brien. “This is a success story,” she said.

Sue O’Brien had her own bout with COVID-19, but recovered at home. As she picked her husband up at the hospital, she urged people to continue with the steps that public health officials say have prevented a surge in COVID-19 cases locally.

“Human behavior passes the disease, and human behavior can control it,” she said.