Haley and Patrick Holland of North Pole have both been diagnosed with COVID-19. Health officials say their four children likely also have the virus. Patrick suffers from congestive heart failure and believes he caught the virus while visiting doctors in Seattle earlier this month. The family is in quarantine at their home. Photo courtesy of the Hollands

A husband and wife who were two of the first cases of COVID-19 in Interior Alaska are speaking about the disease and how it has put their lives on hold.

Patrick Holland, 54, was one of two men who tested positive for COVID-19 on March 16. On March 20, his wife, Haley, also tested positive. Since then, the two, as well as their four children, have been in isolation at their home in North Pole. Complicating matters is the fact that Patrick suffers from congestive heart failure and is seeking a heart transplant. A checkup with his doctors at University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle on March 6 is where Patrick surmises he contracted the coronavirus.

"It's something people should be aware of," Patrick said. "I had no idea when I went to Seattle I would be getting it."

Haley started chronicling Patrick's congestive heart disease journey on Dec. 12, 2019, on a Facebook page called "Big Heart — Patrick Holland's Transplant Journey." It was there that she made a long post on Sunday saying she and Patrick had tested positive for COVID-19.

"We wanted to share our story to help other people," Haley said. "That's the only reason why we shared it."

Haley's post chronicles Patrick's trip to Seattle to see his heart specialists and the days that followed, including his first symptoms and getting tested at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for the coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19.

"When I got to Seattle, the doctor said just wash your hands with soap and water, so I did a lot of hand-washing with soap and water," Patrick said, adding that hospital staff had security at doors asking visitors questions, who they were seeing and scanning visitors. "I was really surprised that all the doctors I talked to said nothing about self-quarantining. They all said wash your hands."

It was on Patrick's 54th birthday on March 13 that the first symptoms hit — a mild fever and body aches. The next day, he was in the emergency room at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

"I felt like I was dying," Patrick said. "It hurt so much, just to move. I couldn't even lean over the side of the bed to turn on my breathing machine. I was in tears. I'm not going to lie."

He took the COVID-19 test on March 14 and got a phone call from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 16 informing him he had COVID-19. Since his quarantine, he's developed a serious cough, and if he breathes deep, "it's hack and hack and hack," Patrick said. "I don't do anything strenuous and I use a nebulizer."

The hospital sent him home, saying there was nothing they could do while instructing him to monitor for a fever and to take acetaminophen for body aches and to avoid ibuprofen.

"It feels like the flu but tenfold," Patrick said. "It's worse than any flu I've had. It makes you weak. The soreness is the worst, plus your joints hurt. It sucked."

Officials with Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, Tanana Valley Clinic and Alaska Division of Public Health have been checking in with the family and monitoring their progress.

"I'm here with my wife who loves me, who puts up with me," Patrick said. "I credit my church and my wife with getting me through this. She's like a rock."

Late on March 16, the day of Patrick's diagnosis, Haley, 35, started feeling it, too — achy body and sore joints. She visited a drive-thru testing site on March 19 and got the results back March 20.

With Patrick and Haley both testing positive and three of their four children exhibiting symptoms, the family went on lockdown at home. None of the children has exhibited an extreme case, Haley said, but they did show symptoms like body aches, sore eyes, and three of the four had fevers. Hospital officials did not test the children and told the Hollands to assume the entire family was positive for COVID-19.

"I had several people posting it's just the flu and business as usual," she said. "It's not business as usual for a lot of us. It's the vulnerable people in our lives — people with heart failure, people who are immunocompromised, the elderly. It's protecting people."

Haley is now vigilant about encouraging awareness of the disease, how it's spread, and its impact on health.

"The reason I put the post up was there was so many people saying there is nothing to worry about, it's fake news, a hoax," Haley said. "We follow the advice of the scientific community in regards as to how to manage this virus. We don't follow the advice of keyboard scientists on Facebook."

Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 or at twitter.com/FDNMfeatures.