Toby Cherney’s husband, Phil, is in the COVID unit at a Fargo hospital. The Jamestown man has been there in an intensive care unit since Nov. 7, sedated and on a ventilator.
“I don’t wish this on anyone,” Toby said. “This is horrible. I just want my husband home. I don’t know when that is ever going to be and the not knowing is the worst part. ... the not being able to see him to let him know that we love him and that we care and that we miss him. It’s just gut-wrenching.”
Toby said they don’t know how Phil, 56, contracted COVID-19.
“We have no clue because he is an avid mask wearer,” she said. “He wears a mask everywhere. We didn’t go out. The kids went to school, that was it. We had stuff delivered. We honestly can’t trace it anywhere.”
Phil became ill after Halloween, Toby said. Initially, he was tired and had a stuffy nose. On Wednesday, he started having breathing problems and got tested. When his condition worsened on Saturday night, she took him to the emergency room at Jamestown Regional Medical Center, where they did a rapid test and determined he had COVID-19.
“They took him to Fargo that Saturday night,” she said.
Toby also later tested positive for COVID-19 and is asymptomatic, she said. She and their three children still at home, ages 12 and younger, are in quarantine. They have five children.
“We have good days and bad days,” Toby said of Phil’s condition. “Today (Wednesday) is not a real good day,” she said, her voice breaking.
The Rev. Tom Eckstein, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church, started a GoFundMe page for the family. The Cherneys are members of Concordia Lutheran.
“When we found out about Philip’s situation we wanted to help them any way we could but it became clear that their situation was actually more dire than we realized, especially when Phil ended up in the Fargo hospital,” he said. “And that’s why I decided to open it to people in the community who might want to support them and GoFundMe seemed like to be the easiest way to do that.”
As of late Wednesday afternoon, the GoFundMe page had raised $3,875 toward a $25,000 goal.
“They’ve been very faithful members of the church, very charitable people,” Eckstein said. “It’s just our turn to help them in their time of need.”
Eckstein said Phil has helped with a Sunday radio program, Christ the Way, which airs from 7:30 to 7:45 a.m. on KSJB.
“Phil had assisted me with that for the last 10 years,” Eckstein said. “... Phil was doing all the tech work at KSJB to get the thing ready for Sunday morning. He was a great blessing in that regard. He was doing it up just until the last few weeks until he became so severely ill.”
Toby said her husband greatly influenced her faith.
“I never went to church before I met my husband,” Toby said. “Never. He did it. My husband got all of us to get back into our faith and things like that and I think that’s the only thing that’s holding me through right now.”
Toby said she started a new job a month ago at Progress Enterprises, and Phil works at Community Action Region VI. Both employers have been very supportive of the family since Phil became ill.
“I can’t say enough for them,” she said.
Toby said Phil has cousins in the area but other than that there is no other immediate family here.
“Some very nice people that used to live in the community bought a plane ticket for my mom (who lives in Ohio) and flew her up here,” she said.
In addition to the GoFundMe page, Mindy Blackmore started a Meal Train so people have been providing the family with meals, Toby said. Another good friend, Elizabeth Kapp, has been a strong support as well, checking in every day with the family, making sure they have what they need.
“All these people know that I am one to never ever ask for help,” Toby said. “I hate it. I hate asking for help. ... it’s just one of those things, you know, I’ve always had to do it on my own, I should be able to do it on my own. And they’ve stepped up and they’ve just taken care of things so I didn’t have to worry. Words can’t express how that makes me feel.”
She has looked only once at the GoFundMe page, she said, because it’s difficult.
“We’re going to have, I would assume, some serious medical bills,” she said. "… I’ve went the last two weeks without a paycheck. I’m able to start back work on Monday. It just takes a relief off you, to know (others are helping).”
The one time she did look, she saw a contribution from a woman who lives in Massachusetts.
“She works for Autism Speaks. She’s my friend on Facebook,” Toby said. “She donated. From Boston, Massachusetts. Never met her. We've just corresponded through working for autism legislation. Never met her. Just unreal. It’s very humbling."
The Cherneys' son, Alexander, has autism.
“Words cannot express how incredibly grateful we are and lucky to have just the support that we’re getting,” she said. “There’s just no words.”
The GoFundMe page can be found at https://bit.ly/32Vuyuf .