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To hell and back: Karl Danneberger on surviving COVID-19

By |  May 8, 2020 0 Comments

Karl Danneberger, Ph.D., longtime professor in the department of horticulture and crop science at The Ohio State University, went to the emergency room on March 16. Two weeks later he woke up in a hospital bed and was asked if he knew where he was. “Dr. D”, a longtime columnist for Golfdom, talks with the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Seth Jones, about the feeling of coming home; about the outpouring of support he received from the industry; and what he craved most after waking up from two weeks on a ventilator.


Karl Danneberger (Photo courtesy of Karl Danneberger, Ph.D.)

Karl described himself as a short, skinny Abe Lincoln as he’s lost 20 pounds and grown a beard, which he quickly shaved off upon returning home. He’s currently doing physical and speech therapy. (Photo courtesy of Karl Danneberger, Ph.D.)

Golfdom: Karl, it’s so great to see you and hear you. How are you feeling?

Karl Danneberger, Ph.D.: I’m doing well now. It’s been a long six weeks, and I’m happy to be home. I feel pretty good; I’m on a road to recovery.

Golfdom: Can you tell us what happened?

KD: It’s interesting, I don’t even remember too much. I talked to a colleague who said, ‘I saw you at work on Wednesday, you looked great.’ I started getting sick, coughing … and my wife took me to the emergency room on March 16. I don’t remember any of that. I went in, they diagnosed me with COVID-19, within a day or two they put me on a ventilator and intubation. For two weeks, I was on that. Then I woke up. I looked around, and I’m going, ‘Where am I?’ The first question that was asked to me was, ‘Do you know where you’re at?’ I’m looking round, I look out the window and I saw OSU Hospital on the sign … and I said, ‘OSU Hospital?’ and they said that’s right.

I was in the ICU; they created this door to block me off. I had been quarantined in this area, and I really didn’t understand what was going on. I saw all this medical staff, the nurses, people who clean the floors, doctors all going by … they were all clapping and cheering as they walked by. I asked, ‘What’s happening?’ They said, ‘You’ve been out for two weeks.’

I remember asking one doctor, ‘How did I get here? Where have I been?’ And he said to me, ‘You’ve been to hell and back. It’s good to have you back.’

I went in March 16, and on April 16, I walked out of the hospital on my own.

Golfdom: Wow, incredible. Your column in the magazine — we always joke about it, Karl — you can start off talking about a classic car and then bring it around at the end and somehow make it about maintaining perfect greens. You’re very philosophical. What’s your philosophy on everything that’s happened over the last month?

KD: One, by the grace of God, my family and all my friends in the industry and obviously the medical staff … I’m here. If you look at me, I’m no spring chicken. There’s always hope. You have to have hope, with everything that’s happening. There’s still good news out there.

I heard this from a number of people, because I got it so early. They said they didn’t take it very seriously until we saw it happen to you. This is a serious thing. It’s no laughing matter. Man, just do the best you can every day because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea how I contracted it. All I know is, God, it’s great to be here.

(L to R) Craig MacGregor, Bill Roddy, Abby Hart, Karl Danneberger, Ph.D., and Jake Goodman at the 2018 Golf Industry Show. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

(L to R) Craig MacGregor, Bill Roddy, Abby Hart, Karl Danneberger, Ph.D., and Jake Goodman at the 2018 Golf Industry Show. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Golfdom: It’s great to have you here! What did you miss the most, what were you most excited about, when you got home?

KD: Obviously, to see my wife and my family. Because no one can see you for a whole month! For my wife and my sons, they would get a phone call each evening from the hospital telling my condition. I can’t imagine that. You pick up the phone and you don’t know what they’re going to say. And there was a day or two, I’ve learned, that was extremely touch-and-go.

When I woke up, I only had ice chips, and they let me have applesauce when I took my medicine. Someone asked me what I want, and I said my dream is an ice cold glass of water that I could just chug down.

Golfdom: The tweet you sent out when you left the hospital, thanking the doctors and letting everyone know you were able to go home … it has over 1,000 likes on Twitter. How does that feel to know so many people were pulling for you and thinking of you?

Golfdom’s Seth Jones and Karl Danneberger, Ph.D., at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Golfdom’s Seth Jones and Karl Danneberger, Ph.D., at the 2016 U.S. Open at
Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

KD: When I got home … there were stacks of mail and cards. I went back and looked at my phone … I get emotional, I’m sorry. There were people who texted me while I was intubated. All these emails, social media, cards … to my family and everything. It was amazing. And you know what? I do believe the thoughts and prayers helped.

I didn’t know I had so many friends, that so many people care for me. Actually, I still get out some of the cards and read them! It’s a real emotional thing. I just don’t know how to explain it. You know I told you, and I think you tweeted it out … although it seems odd, I feel like I passed away, and I came back for my own funeral and eulogy, reading all these cards. I feel very lucky. Lucky to be involved in an industry like ours, where people care a lot. The messages I got, they all meant something to me, and I cherish them all.

See the full video of this interview here.

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