Former local Salvation Army officer shares his near-death COVID experience

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You can call Gary Sturdivant many things: positive, energetic, faithful, devout Christian, leader, loving dad, husband, Salvation Army officer and minister — just to name a few.

After what’s happened to him during the last several months, you can add one more significant and accurate word to that list: survivor.

You may remember Sturdivant. He’s a major in The Salvation Army. From 2018 to June of 2020, he and his wife, Beth, were the commanding officers of the High Point Salvation Army Command. He was also a constant in just about every FOX8 charitable project during that time.

From performing his own rendition of “Rapper’s Delight” to encourage people to give to FOX8 Gifts for Kids to encourage people to donate at the Old Dominion/FOX8 Holiday Concerts, he was there.

The Salvation Army transferred the couple to its divisional headquarters in Charlotte where Sturdivant is now a top recruiter and head of the men’s ministry for North and South Carolina.

But after spending just five months in Charlotte, Sturdivant began what would become the most difficult journey of his life.

“If I exert myself at all, if I stand up and go to the bathroom, my oxygen just drops,” he told me during a virtual interview from his home. “I can’t keep it up. That’s the only issue I have right now.”

It started in early December.

“We were sitting here at the house, and I told Beth, I said, ‘I can’t taste anything. I can’t smell anything.’ And I knew that one was of the big symptoms of COVID-19,” he told me.

Within the next few hours, both Gary and Beth would test positive.

Both ended up in the hospital. Beth — who had primarily digestive-related symptoms — got better and was eventually released. But Gary’s breathing problems were critical from the start.

“Now I remember in ICU, them telling me, ‘We’re going to have to intubate you. We’re going to have to put you on a ventilator.’ And I called my best friend in the Salvation Army World, Kent Davis. You’ll probably remember Major Kent Davis who used to serve in Winston-Salem. I called Kent. And I said, ‘do you have my eulogy ready?’”

Gary would stay on the ventilator for more than 30 days.

Doctors took him off of it in mid-to-late January when his oxygen levels improved. It was about this time he had a memorable encounter with a nurse.

“She didn’t realize I was alive. So she came into my room, and she said, ‘Gary, I just want to tell you we don’t see this. We don’t see people (still alive) who had been on a ventilator this long and in the shape you were in. You are an absolute miracle.”

After spending a while in physical therapy, Gary was finally able to go home in late February. Today, he’s working from home — mostly using Zoom — planning to get the COVID vaccine, telling his story, and spreading a special message:

“I love the Lord Jesus with all my heart. And I love my family as close as I possibly am allowed to compare to my love for the Lord,” he said. “And my love for the Lord is stronger than it’s ever been. If anybody has an ear, they’re going to hear how wonderful my Lord is!”

And regarding COVID-19:

“Folks have said it’s a hoax. They’ve said it’s not real. Gary Sturdivant was guilty of that,” he said. “But the disease is real. The virus is real. It has knocked me for a loop. But like my son said in my ear, ‘Dad, keep fighting, fight this Dad!”

And that’s another word you can add to describe Gary Sturdivant: fighter.

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