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One year later, Utah's first COVID-19 patient discusses journey home and lingering effects

Posted at 9:59 PM, Feb 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-28 23:59:18-05

Sunday marks one year since health care providers treated the first COVID-19 patient in the state of Utah.

Mark Jorgensen and his wife Jerri were aboard the Diamond Princess Cruise ship in Japan when the couple first heard of the novel coronavirus.

The St. George couple were some of the first few people from Utah to test positive for COVID-19.

The couple was selected for testing on the cruise because Mark is considered high risk from kidney transplants. They didn't think Jerri would be the one to test positive.

"It kind of got real in that moment," Mark said. "They had this printed sheet that said, 'Because of your test results, you’ll be taken off the ship.'"

Jerri was driven in an ambulance to Fukushima, four hours away -- no one spoke English.

"Some people were actually quite appalled that I would have the audacity to get off in America while Jerri was in Japan," said Mark.

Even if the couple had both gone to Fukushima, they would have been separated and unable to see each other because Mark had tested negative for COVID-19.

A cargo plane is what brought Mark and 170 others back from their cruise -- it was on that flight that Mark believes he got COVID.

"It was not something I want to repeat," said Mark.

Once back in the States, Mark tested positive but wasn't showing any symptoms -- a huge factor in the decision to transfer him to a bio-containment unit in Utah.

The transfer occurred February 28, 2020, from California to the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

Although they were continents apart, the couple said they never felt truly alone.

Mark received meals and even new t-shirts from friends making sure he was comfortable in the hospital.

In Japan, Jerri received cookies, doTerra oils and letters from members of the local Latter-day Saint ward.

When Jerri tested negative and received clearance to leave the Japanese hospital, 10 or 12 nurses escorted her down to her Uber.

"They stood out and they just kept waving and it reminded me of my mother," said Jerri. "It was just so sweet, they kept waving and I was crying, and they were crying."

Sweet memories amidst the chaos of their trip.

Once back in St. George, the two were under strict quarantine rules.

Mark and Jerri couldn't even hug each other.

"We were much more compliant then," said Jerri, who was out mountain biking her first morning back.

Jerri waited at least nine weeks before returning to her local gym.

"I get a call that says we don't want you to come back," said Jerri.

Jerri said she even received death threats on social media, saying "if you come here, we'll kill you."

The Washington County Sheriff had Jerri put her on speed dial, she said.

Since then, the couple have been back to life as they knew it, almost.

"I've got this brain fog happening," said Mark.

That, and Mark said he's been having issues with his vision.

"The nerves from the eye to the brain are squished and it’s effecting my peripheral vision," said Mark. "My doctor is convinced it’s COVID related."

Yet, despite it all, not even COVID-19 could stop the Jorgensens from living life to the fullest.

Mark and Jerri are in Costa Rica for their first trip out of the country since their cruise in Japan of 2020.

"We can choose fear, or we can choose love," said Jerri. "We always have choice to choose what circumstance we’re in."