Parkinson's Disease Stories

Lesten's Story

Nov 16, 2021

“I want people who had COVID to know there’s help out there.”


As a Detroit firefighter, Lesten Hilkemeier, is used to powering through harrowing situations. Little did he know, one of his biggest challenges wouldn’t involve flames or working on the edge.

“At the firehouse, we eat together like a family. One night in October 2020 after dinner, our engine house was tagged for random COVID-19 testing. When we got word that one of our guys tested positive, we knew the damage was done.”

As a precaution, the firefighters quarantined.

“I lived in my basement away from my wife and kids.& We wore masks, and I was constantly sanitizing my hands. Day 12, I thought I was out of the woods and then, bam! High fever, severe body aches, my hair was falling out, I had memory issues, I had to crawl up the stairs – any symptom associated with COVID, I had it. My whole family got sick, and so did some of the other firefighters.”

Lesten talked with a nurse manager daily to monitor his symptoms. Two months later, he started to feel better. She recommended physical therapy to get his strength back. While it helped, he didn’t feel able to return to work.

“That’s when my doctor recommended a work hardening program at DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM).”

RIM’s work hardening program simulated activities he would be doing on the job. While being medically supervised, Lesten worked on things like climbing stairs carrying a fire hose, sledgehammer and air harness on his back. His physical therapist worked to help him increase his stamina and lung capacity after the toll of COVID-19.

For three times a week, Lesten’s still working on getting back to the firehouse, which has been a huge help in building his endurance and ability.

“I want people who had COVID to know there’s help out there. It’s hard work, but physically and mentally, I’m so much stronger. I know with my family and RIM, I will recover.”