Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



He won’t be home for Christmas, but he’s alive: Brainerd man slowly recovers from COVID-19

The Brainerd native has a long road of recovery before him after severe respiratory complications caused by the coronavirus led to two separate bouts on a ventilator, along with failing kidneys kept afloat only by continuous dialysis. But he’s alive on the other side, and both Mark and Cori have traversed one of the most difficult journeys of their lives.

Nevada golf.jpg
Cori Wrobel and Mark Skogen pose together on a golf course in Nevada. Together for nine years, the pair met while golfing. Submitted photo

Editor's note: A day after publication on Dec. 24, the subject of this story, Mark Skogen, died due to complications of COVID-19.

Cori Wrobel won’t be spending this Christmas at home with the love of her life, but she’s thanking God she has the chance to celebrate holidays with him in the future.

After 40 days and nights of not knowing whether 58-year-old Mark Skogen would live or die, the Brainerd woman announced her Christmas miracle to friends and family Saturday, Dec. 19: Mark was well enough to transfer out of the cardiac intensive care unit at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

The Brainerd native has a long road of recovery before him after severe respiratory complications caused by the coronavirus led to two separate bouts on a ventilator, along with failing kidneys kept afloat only by continuous dialysis. But he’s alive on the other side, and both Mark and Cori have traversed one of the most difficult journeys of their lives.

“Faith is just — that’s what’s gotten me through this,” Cori said last month. “I mean, what else do you do when you’re laying in bed at 3:30, in the middle of the night, and you are physically and mentally exhausted, and you can’t sleep because all these thoughts are running through your head? And so you just start praying. And that’s what’s gotten me through this.”


Cori Wrobel and Mark Skogen together while on vacation in Florida. Skogen came close to death while suffering from COVID-19 and remains hospitalized at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Submitted photo


A hellish journey

It started with a fever.

A day after returning from a northern Iowa pheasant hunting trip with eight lifelong friends in late October, Mark’s temperature spiked. A hunting buddy who’d been sniffling during the weekend woke up feverish earlier that morning, so Cori said their thoughts immediately turned to the possibility of COVID-19.

But Mark also received his flu vaccination that day, she said, and his appetite seemed on par.

“He was still ravenous that night. He was still digging in the fridge at 9 o’clock,” Cori said. “And you know, we didn’t think a lot of it.”

The next night, Mark and Cori learned his friend tested positive for the disease. Mark went to get tested himself the following day, now experiencing chills and congestion but overall, seemingly mild symptoms. As a tertiary contact, however, Cori herself wasn’t able to get tested at the time.


On paper, the 47-year-old office administrator at Brainerd’s Bethlehem Lutheran Church said she was the one for whom they were most concerned about severe consequences should they contract COVID-19.

“All along, we’ve been relatively safe. We wear masks when we go out, we limit how we’ve been interacting with people, you know, we haven’t been inside of a restaurant. We still go out and we go shopping, but we haven’t taken uber risks,” she said. “I have asthma and so we always thought that if we got it that I would be the one that we would be worrying about and not Mark, because he was in good health.”


It was Halloween when Cori started to feel ill herself, and it seemed as though that prophecy may be fulfilled.
“At that point, I just felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck. I mean, I had body aches, a headache, light sensitivity and congestion, and just a lot of the symptoms that people do have,” she said. “I was bad for three days, just down and out on the couch.”

st pats day.jpg
Cori Wrobel and Mark Skogen take a selfie during a St. Patrick's Day parade in Crosslake. Skogen faces a long road to recovery after COVID-19 resulted in two stints on a ventilator along with serious kidney problems. Submitted photo

Mark learned his test came back positive that Monday morning, so Cori got a test the following day. She suffered through the illness and was beginning to come around by the time her results revealed she also had contracted the disease. While she managed her own symptoms, Mark quietly began to feel worse.

“I had been sick, so I didn’t really realize maybe how sick he was,” Cori said. “On Saturday (Nov. 7), I really started noticing he was hardly moving around at all. But you know, again I didn’t think a whole lot of it. He was breathing fine. He had a fever, and you just feel crummy when you have a fever.”


The next day, Cori said it dawned on her just how long Mark’s fever had lasted — 12 days by that point.

“That afternoon, I started Googling, ‘When is it time to go into the hospital?’ I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to worry him,” she said.

Not long after, Mark returned from using the bathroom and sat down, unable to catch his breath for 20 minutes. Concerned, Cori suggested it might be time to go to the hospital but Mark rebuffed. Around the same time, a friend dropped off supplies at their home and Cori told her what was happening. The friend agreed hospital care seemed needed.

“When I came back in, I said, ‘She thinks you should go in immediately,’” Cori said. “Then he said yes. And that’s when my heart really plummeted, because I thought, ‘Oh crap. If he wants to go, this is really, really bad.’ And so I took him over to St. Joe’s and just the worst feeling in the world was leaving him in the ER. I kissed him on the head and watched them take him away. And there wasn’t anything that I could do, and that was an awful, awful feeling.”

It was 2:42 a.m., less than 48 hours after Mark was admitted, when the phone rang. News Cori dreaded to hear came through the receiver. Mark was on a ventilator. That was Nov. 10 — two full weeks since Mark first had a fever.

To all those who think COVID isn’t real, let’s talk. Let’s talk about the three days of feeling like you’ve been rolled...

Posted by Cori Wrobel on Wednesday, November 11, 2020

In a Nov. 11 post on Facebook shared 121 times, Cori recounted her experience to that point, pleading with people who don’t believe in COVID-19 to listen to those who are witnessing it with their own eyes and facing the possibility of losing a loved one.

“Let’s talk about wondering what the days, weeks, months, even years, ahead will hold, even though all you can really focus on is the next hour, sometime minute, waiting for a glimmer of hope,” Cori wrote that November morning. “ … What can you do? Pray. Pray that Mark has the strength to recover from this monster. Pray for all the other people fighting COVID right now. Pray for their families. Pray for the 240,000+ Americans who have already lost the battle and their families, along with all the other 1.04 million families throughout the world who are suffering. Pray for the healthcare workers as they battle for us who can’t do a thing except feel helpless.


“Give your loved ones a hug and a kiss and tell them you love them. WEAR A PROPERLY FITTING MASK. Practice social distancing. STAY HOME WHEN YOU CAN. I understand how old this pandemic is. I long to hang out with friends, go out to eat with family, go shopping in a store, but more than anything, I long to do these things again with the love of my life, and I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I know we all want to gather with family this holiday season. Please reconsider.”

Mark Skogen and Cori Wrobel take a selfie in front of a lighted tree during a previous year at the Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth. Wrobel said while she's unable to spend Christmas at home with Skogen, she's grateful he's showing signs of recovery after more than a month in the hospital with COVID-19. Submitted photo

Later that same day, Mark’s kidneys began to fail, prompting the decision to seek his transfer to a hospital capable of providing inpatient continuous dialysis two days later. But in the thick of the dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations last month, no staffed beds were available in the state. Watching the clock tick minute by minute, Cori waited for news. The next day, Nov. 14, it came — Mark would be transferred to Abbott Northwestern via a six-passenger plane to accommodate the ventilator and his complex medical needs.

One day at a time

Paired up as golf partners during a group outing more than nine years ago and together ever since, Mark and Cori’s personalities complement one another, she said.

“He’s a wonderful human being. He’s got a wonderful sense of humor. He’s the life of the party. He could talk to a wall — just very, very friendly,” she said of Mark, a longtime civil engineering technician with Baxter-based Widseth. “In a lot of ways, the opposite of me. I’m, you know, I’m quieter, and I’m the worrywart. He’s Mr. Positive, positive thinking, and he just has such a kind heart. He gives and gives and gives to people and donates to strangers and is just a very compassionate person. … It’s your heart that matters. And he has the best heart of anybody that I’ve ever met.”

punta cana.jpg
Cori Wrobel and Mark Skogen pose together during a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The couple has been together for more than nine years. Submitted photo


Devoid of that positive energy, stripped of physical touch, alone with her thoughts as Mark laid in a hospital bed, Cori said she struggled to take care of herself while consumed with worry and helplessness. A friend reminded her it was important to eat, suggesting she choke down meal replacement drinks despite having no appetite.

The weekend before Thanksgiving offered a glimmer of hope: Mark came off the ventilator and things appeared to be headed in the right direction. He was no longer in the COVID-19 unit at the hospital and would soon begin rehabilitation. But 10 days later, a major setback required Mark to go back on a ventilator. His battered lungs, riddled with aspiration pneumonia and blood clots, could not keep him breathing on his own and he went into respiratory arrest.

Two agonizingly long weeks would pass before Mark grew strong enough to once again breathe without being intubated. And Saturday marked another positive milestone as Mark was moved from intensive care to a regular hospital room.

I am so happy to tell you that Mark is out of CICU! We continue to see small improvements daily. Thank you for all the prayers. Keep them coming! I believe in miracles. With God all things are possible!

Posted by Cori Wrobel on Saturday, December 19, 2020

Reached Tuesday, Cori said she’s taking Mark’s recovery day by day, but that’s an improvement from the hour by hour or even minute by minute state she was in during the darkest days.

“One of the hardest things about COVID is it’s so different for everybody that they can’t say, ‘OK, here’s what you can expect.’ A normal person who gets COVID, they’re obviously, thank God, not going to go through what we’ve gone through,” she said. “But now we’re to the point nobody knows. You don’t know what to expect. What's going to happen in a month? Nobody knows. And so that’s a hard thing to struggle with, too.”

Mark is able to video chat with her and his “Mark-isms” are returning, she said. Tuesday showed exciting progress when he sat up in a chair. But in the post-coma haze, he still gets confused, and as of now, does not know the extent of his harrowing brush with mortality.

“I am careful in what I say. He just needs positivity right now,” Cori said. “He’s doing so much better obviously than what he was doing. It’s one day at a time now, which is better than what it was.”


Cori’s doing better, too, she said — but it’s now been 45 days since she last saw Mark in person. He’s not yet strong enough to begin rehab, so it’s unknown just how much longer she’ll be separated from him as visitors are currently not allowed. Her Christmas Day plans call for a day trip to Minneapolis to give gifts to hospital staff, drop off presents for Mark and if all goes well, catch a glimpse of him through his hospital window from the parking lot below.

“It helps that we have the technology that we have now, I get to see him every day. That absolutely helps,” Cori said. “But I would give anything to be able to be in the hospital room with him and just hold his hand or watch him sleep. … That’s the worst thing for me. There’s nothing that I can do.”

By the grace of God

After this test of endurance and emotional limits, Cori said she’s learned some things that could help others who may be faced with a similarly traumatic experience.

First, she said, is to make regular appointments with a primary care doctor. Although as far as Mark knew, he was in good health at the time he caught the virus, Cori said, but it’d been awhile since his last checkup. A health care directive outlining one’s wishes is also important, she noted, along making a list of bills for loved ones, including account numbers and how they’re paid, to alleviate any confusion or financial missteps if someone is incapacitated.

Cori reiterated the importance of taking public health guidance seriously, noting the couple’s experience goes to show how volatile and mystifying COVID-19 can be.

“People need to know, you do not know how this is going to affect you,” she said. “You’re playing Russian roulette. Most people, yes, are going to be fine. But if it’s you, it’s you. And there’s nothing that you can do, and your family will go through hell.

“ … Please think of our health care workers, they are just absolutely superheroes. They are just amazing. They have a hard job under normal circumstances and now to be facing what they’re facing with all the extra work — trying to be the family that can’t be there and having to be in touch with us and all of our phone calls and answer our questions. If nothing else, do it for them.”

Of all the lessons this ordeal has offered, Cori said the power of prayer and surrendering to the embrace of others gave her and especially Mark the strength they needed to carry on.

“I keep telling people I would love to see a map, and I want to see little pinpoints of all people who are praying, honestly, throughout the country,” she said. “ … That’s absolutely what has gotten him through this. He has gotten excellent care, I don’t mean to downplay what the doctors and nurses have done, because they have been phenomenal. But it was by the grace of God, because he really shouldn’t be here any longer, I don’t think.”

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
What To Read Next
Get Local