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Reasons to be thankful: Randolph man survives battle with COVID-19

Randolph resident Jim Styles is pictured with his son, Ryan, during graduation in May 2018.

On this day focusing on thankfulness, a Randolph man shares his story of how he was blessed to survive a life-threatening attack by COVID-19.

A challenging childhood, when Jim Styles had to be the man of the house by keeping his single mother’s car running and working to earn what he could, may have given him the courage to keep fighting a virus that ravaged his body.

“When I was 9 years old and living in the housing projects in Olean, I rebuilt the carburetor of my mother’s 1965 Ford on the kitchen table,” Styles said.

Imagine the look on the face of the employees at the local parts store when a 9-year-old boy showed up on his bike with a carburetor he had removed from his mother’s car.

“I told them I needed a kit for it,” said the East Randolph man, rather nonchalantly.

Jim Styles has been battling COVID-19 for several months. “I’m very grateful for all of the prayers and blessings of all of the people,” he said. At right, Jim Styles is pictured during his hospitalization due to the coronavirus.

By the age of 11, he had a morning and an afternoon paper route delivering the Courier-Express, a very thick and heavy newspaper, especially the Sunday edition. He delivered the 100-plus papers with a wagon, and on snowy days, took along a snow shovel in case he found some jobs shoveling sidewalks.

From the age of 11 to 13, he had an additional job on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons where he set pins at a three-lane bowling alley at the Eagles Club in Olean. His job consisted of setting up the pins and sending the balls back down the chute for all three lanes, while dodging the balls that were coming his way.

“I made 5 cents a game, not a frame. I made $5 for the three days,” he said.

An interest in motorized vehicles came naturally to the boy, because of the exposure he received early in life. His father built a go-kart for him when he was 7-years old and when the boy was 10, he bought a 1966 Dodge Charger for his son to use as a field car when he spent the summer at his Perrysburg home. He had a project car when he was 12-years old and has continued to have them to this day.

“I always had to work because my sisters were too young and it wasn’t common for girls to work back then,” Styles said. “I gave half of my money to my mother and saved the other half for my first car. I bought a two door ’71 Delta 88 when I was 15. Two doors were rare on Delta 88s. I paid to have it painted and bought new wheels and tires. When I was 16, I had a shiny, new car.”

He took a job at a Chevy dealer working as a lot boy the same year.

“I used to love to move the new trucks after they were taken off the (car carrier) truck,” he said. “After they were unloaded, I moved the cars and trucks to where I wanted them on the lot. I loved it.”

He kept this job until he graduated high school.

Fast forward to 2020 when the 58-year old was enjoying life after retiring from a 25-year career at Monofrax and a 30-year locksmith business. He retired at age 55 to spend his days collecting cars and doing car restoration. He built a large garage on his property.

“I’ve owned 150 cars, mostly classic collectibles and have been in 37 states buying old cars and bringing them home,” he said.

At one time he owned 11 1969 Camaros. He currently has six Camaros and a ’70 Barracuda, all in need of restoration. He is drawn to cars that seem to be beyond repair.

“It’s a challenge,” he notes.

He hires someone to do the metal work, has another person to paint the vehicle and has the engine built.

“I always put big blocks in them,” he said.

Styles buys replaces all of the old parts with new and does his own disassembling and reassembling. The process from start to finish takes about 14 months.

Retirement was going along smoothly and he was enjoying his passion.

“I had no health issues, other than my knees were worn out from working on cement floors,” Styles said.

On May 15, his son Ryan Styles came to the house to check on his dad after he hadn’t been able to reach him for two days. He found his father gasping for air while seated in a chair in the living room. He had been fading in and out. After giving his father the option of going by ambulance or driving him to the hospital, he drove his truck over the lawn to the front porch where he assisted his father into the vehicle.

“His lungs and kidneys were shutting down,” the son said. “He sat in a chair for two days gasping.”

Within a couple of hours of his arrival at UPMC Chautauqua, he was transported by ambulance to UPMC Hamot in Erie, Pa. After 4-5 hours at Hamot, the doctors realized his case was more than they were prepared to handle, so he was flown to UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh.

Shortly before his arrival, the medical center had received enough Remdesivir to treat two COVID-19 patients. They chose the patients by lottery and just 15 minutes after the very ill man arrived, his name was pulled. He was also given hydrocortisone. The father and son believe this combination saved the older man’s life.

The seriously ill man spent the next two months heavily sedated, intubated and on an ECMO, a pump that circulates the blood through an artificial lung, while lying on his stomach. A very large, very deep wound developed on his chest. Three of his fingers turned a deep purple color, a permanent indentation formed on his lip and his tongue split nearly in two. When the tongue healed, it was deformed, causing Styles to talk with a lisp. He is unable to spit and has difficulty clearing his throat. His voice has changed and he must take the nine pills prescribed him one at a time.

He was discharged from the Pittsburgh hospital on Aug. 11 to Erie’s Select Specialty Hospital for wound care. After two months, he was moved across town to Emcompass where he spent three weeks in physical therapy, in an effort to get him back on his feet.

By the time the blessed man was discharged to home two weeks ago, he had lost 75 pounds, received seven blood transfusions and was tested for COVID-19 11 times.

He was escorted into town and to his home by a parade, including emergency vehicles with lights and sirens going. Many friends from as far back as elementary school, townspeople, neighbors and Blaze, his 3-year old Yellow Labrador Retriever, greeted him.

Ryan Styles moved back home to help his father. Three trained professionals come to the house every week, including a nurse who comes Monday, Wednesday and Friday to change the bandages and check on the Wound Vac. An occupational and physical therapist come twice weekly. The patient, who is currently using a walker in his home, is determined to strengthen his legs so he can walk unassisted.

“I’m in Ryan’s Boot Camp. Anything Ryan says, goes,” the father said in jest. “He has me walking for therapy.”

“He has to rebuild his upper body muscles by doing day to day activities,” the son informs.

He focuses on how his dad can do a task, rather than do it for him. He has him drying dishes, putting dishes away, folding laundry and exercising. He prepares healthy meals for him.

“I’m very thankful. Believe me,” Styles said. “When I was raising him, he would always do what I asked so I try to do what he asks.”

“I’m very grateful for all of the prayers and blessings of all of the people,” he said. “I was overwhelmed by the parade they gave me and all of the people who were here. The community response was unbelievable.”

When asked about doing car restoration again with few fingers left on his dominant hand, his response was, “I’ll adjust. That’s my plan. I’ll learn how to turn wrenches all over again.”

Ryan Styles, a manufacturing engineer for the 15-liter assembly line for Cummins diesel engines, came down with the virus while his father was hospitalized. He was quite ill with a 103-degree fever for six days, an intense headache, body pain and could not eat, but he did not require hospitalization. During this same time, his brother Nicholas Becker, contracted the virus, too. The 21-year old went to the emergency room two or three times, had pneumonia, low oxygen and fluid in his lungs.

During the six months Styles was away from home, his son had his cell phone turned off. He has been in touch with the provider to reassign the same number and as of yet, that has not happened.

In the meantime, he can be reached at dzman302@yahoo.com. He does not do restoration for others, but would be happy to refer.

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