‘It’s just an ugly virus’: Anchorage family reflects as loved one fights for life in hospital

Max Hornak has been hospitalized since mid-September with a case of COVID-19. He's since fought off the virus, but is now facing a bout of bacterial pneumonia.
Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 10:07 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For Amy Mackey-Hornak, the past several weeks have been what she simply calls “a struggle.” What she’s really been through, though, is far more complicated.

“It’s just an ugly virus. You know? And I just wish that people would focus on the families that are going through this,” she said, “rather than the elements of how they got there.”

Mackey-Hornak’s husband of several decades, 67-year-old Max Hornak, is currently hospitalized after a bout with COVID-19. For now, he’s behind the walls of the intensive care unit at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, in an induced coma as his body — in conjunction with a ventilator and heavy dose of antibiotics — works to fight off a case of bacterial pneumonia.

“COVID has basically left his body,” Mackey-Hornak said, adding that her husband first tested positive for COVID-19 several weeks ago. “Originally, they said he had COVID pneumonia, but now they’re saying it’s more bacterial. And so this morning, they put him on a real high dose of antibiotics, to really just attack that pneumonia in the lungs.”

For her, there could be worse news than a bacterial infection, since that can hopefully be treated, and treated quickly. She’s more concerned about how her husband’s body has suffered after fighting off COVID-19.

“What we’re dealing with now is the aftermath of the damage of COVID,” Mackey-Hornak said. “So it’s an everyday struggle for Max and all these people.

“COVID is very vicious,” she continued. “It touches everybody in so many different ways. So he’s not alone in all of this. But it’s a struggle.”

Hornak is not alone in needing hospital care in relation to COVID-19, though he is fighting pneumonia that was a result of the virus. More than 2,300 Alaska residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began in this state, according to data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. On Thursday, the state’s hospital data dashboard showed that as of Wednesday, there were 209 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19.

Mackey-Hornak and the three sons she and her husband have haven’t been able to visit the hospital to see Hornak in person. For now, virtual visits have to do.

“That’s the hardest part,” she said. “Not to be able to talk to these people, and go and hold their hands, and just let them know how much they’re loved. When somebody you love is hurting, you just want to run to them.

“We’ve got people all over the U.S. that uplift him, and have him in prayer,” she added, “and we did a Zoom meeting the other day. The nurses were kind enough to put an iPad in there, so we did a Zoom meeting. Fourteen people on from across the nation. It was really, really good for people to be able to talk to him.”

Mackey-Hornak described her husband as “the engineer brain, the quiet, silent one,” with a big heart and aptitude for cars. He worked in auto repairs for 35 years, she said, growing up in Colorado but moving to Alaska with her some four decades ago.

“He’s just so good,” she said. “He touches things and they turn to gold, type of thing.”

Also diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month around the same time as her husband, Mackey-Hornak said her symptoms were more similar to a mild cold than anything she’s seen with her husband.

“My symptoms presented so differently,” she explained. “I had more of a cold symptom, with a very light cough. I never stopped moving, never stopped doing, gardened, harvested my vegetables, I still run the dogs, and I just never stopped. For Max, it was very different.”

Like Hornak, however, the family is refusing to give up: their faith and positive outlook are unwavering, even in the toughest of times.

“It’s a human story. There’s so many others. It’s not just me, and I know that,” Mackey-Hornak said. “(Max is) one of the most stubborn people that you will ever meet — he gets that fair and square form his mother — but we are optimistic because we know Max.”

She said she’s grateful for all the support she and her family have received, and how the virus has in a way brought so many people together. The staff at Providence in particular, she said, have been compassionate to the point where it’s lifted her and her other loved ones up.

Providence has been operating under crisis standards of care since last week, due to resources being overwhelmed by incoming COVID-19 patients and staffing challenges.

“I think many times, when you’re sick, you just focus on the sickness instead of on the healing side of it,” Mackey-Hornak said. “So when I speak with Max, I just say, ‘Allow your body to heal! Allow your body to heal! Welcome that healing, instead of all the nastiness.’ I just want him to know that he’s wrapped in love, and we want him to heal.”

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