Looking fit and like himself, Dr. Carl Seon and his wife Anita met with me for an interview during a social gathering with some of his new medical colleagues from Whole Health Orthopedic Institute and their partners.

Resuming his career is a day he thought might never come after his lungs were ravaged by the COVID-19 virus.  Both lungs had to be replaced in a delicate transplant operation at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh.

"I was battling rejection for quite a while, the first 13 months after transplant," Dr. Seon said.  "Once that got taken care of in May of this year, I think that's when my recovery really started."

The key was finding the right anti-rejection medication, and dosage.  Before that, recovery was difficult and slow.  "And there were times it seemed so far away, just having to learn how to walk again, feed myself, to dress myself to bath myself...the progress was excruciatingly slow, and it taught me patience," Seon said.

His wife, a woman of strong faith, managed to find the tiny steps of progress, even when the journey was so difficult.  "I spent a lot of the day in prayer and just trying to find the hurdle he made it over," Anita said.

Dr. Seon became deathly ill with COVID-19 just before Christmas 2020, three days before the vaccine became available to front line health workers in Erie...a healer himself feeling first hand just how hard COVID was hitting the health care system. "It opened my eyes to what everyone was going through. It was such a stressful time and you could feel the stress that the aides, the nurses, the respiratory therapists, the physicians were under," Dr. Seon said. "You know it was all around, they were worried about getting it, they were short staffed, people were calling off sick because they got COVID, it just put a lot of stress on the system and you know it just opened my eyes, seeing what everyone, everyone was going through."

But his colleagues at UPMC Hamot were thinking about him too.  They let the public know they were pulling and praying for him with big signs in the hospital windows, even a blood drive, and soon the community was right there with them.

As he recovered, and came out of a coma, Dr. Seon was surprised and thankful for all of that support.  "I was blown away. We received stacks upon stacks of cards everyday. The hospital walls were full of the cards that my wife and the nurses would put up."

Dr. Seon said those messages were a big help with his healing.  "There were many times that you know, I wasn't feeling great, but Anita would sit by my side and read the cards until I fell asleep and it gave me the energy to pull through.  I mean co-workers, past patients, people in my church people in the community -- you know people I never met before -- they reached out and said they were praying for me and um rooting for me and I honestly believe that really pulled me through."

His wife felt those prayers at work as well.  "I could just feel the support, the love and so many said they're praying for the girls and me also...and we could feel it," she said.

Fellow orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ryan Molli and his family were among those praying too.  His son and the Seons' daughter are friends. "When he got sick along with thousands of other people we said a lot of prayers, I can tell you that dinner table in there had a prayer for Dr. Seon every night," he said.

He was praying for Dr. Seon just to get home to his wife and family, but with those prayers answered.  The two doctors started a conversation about Dr. Seon wanting to return to work as a shoulder and elbow surgeon, his fellowship trained specialty.  "When I met with him it was my wife, Anita and Carl, because I wanted to make sure that we were on the same page, because I wasn't going to allow him to overwork and have a bad outcome," Dr. Molli said.

Dr. Seon plans ease into the work, starting in September.  "I've been advised by my transplant team to you know, just be patient and ease your way into things and let your body adjust."

The doctor had envisioned returning to his job with the UPMC Sports Medicine practice in Erie, but because Whole Health is independently owned, they will offer the flexibility the doctor needs as he returns.  "They had interest in bringing me back for a long time and at the last moment they had a change of heart ...and I was lucky enough to be offered other positions and I chose Whole Health," Seon said.

And now from thinking she would lose him, Anita Seon will watch her husband return to the work he loves, surgically fixing people's shoulders and elbows.  "This has been his goal before the transplant, to have the transplant and get back to work, and he loves what he does, and you can tell he loves what he does, so I'm very excited for him," she said.

And after his COVID-19 battle, his work, which meant so much for the last 16 years, now means even more.  "You take so many things for granted and once they're taken away and you're able to get back to that, you just value it so much more."

Whole Health Orthopedic Institute is based in Meadville, and operates at Edgewood Surgical Hospital in Transfer, PA.  The Institute will announce plans to open a satellite office in Erie soon, where Dr. Seon will see patients.  He said they're already calling.

Watch the extended interview with Dr. Seon