Health: A Thank-You to Cape Fear Valley’s Frontline Professionals

By: Kim Hasty

Tommy and Peggy Arnold at their home in Fayetteville recovering from Covid Feb.5, 2021.

For decades, Tommy Arnold has been the first to pitch in whenever someone needed help. We’ll likely never know the extent to which he’s been the willing benefactor to school fundraisers, nonprofit organizations, those in need of emergency medical treatments or those simply hurting and in need of a meal.

In November, when he was the one who needed help, he said a host of frontline medical workers were there for him.

“I’d like to thank them,” he said, “for answering God’s call on their life to do what they’re doing.”

Arnold, who brought Fayetteville’s first Chick-fil-A to town in 1975 and has gone on to own two of the chain’s most successful North Carolina franchises, tested positive for COVID-19 early in November, as did his wife of 51 years, Peggy. you don’t realize what these people are doing and the impact they have on people’s lives,” he said. “It’s not a transactional activity for them. It’s caring for the family. It’s caring for the individual. It’s making sure that the patient is getting everything they can to make them comfortable and being sensitive.”

It was on the cold and rainy evening of Nov. 11, just as his wife was beginning to regain a bit of her own energy, that Tommy Arnold took a turn for the worse. Despite the efforts of his family doctor to treat the virus, Arnold’s oxygen intake level had grown dangerously low. Peggy Arnold made the decision to call 911, and first responders from Fire Station 6 on Cliffdale Road quickly arrived.

Tommy and Peggy Arnold at their home in Fayetteville recovering from Covid Feb.5, 2021.

“The only thing I remember is one of them apologizing for not having something to put over me for the rain,” Arnold said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about that.’ “
He spent several days in the intensive care unit, with Peggy unable to visit but receiving regular updates from the nurses.

He then spent the following days trying to get stronger … and trying to convince his doctors he was well enough to go home. Arnold had none of the preexisting conditions that can exacerbate COVID, but he nevertheless had pneumonia in one lung as well as a partially collapsed lung. Doctors told him he would have been in grave danger had he waited much longer. Going home was going to take time.

“Lying there, you get the sense that you’re in a lot better shape than you really are,” he said.

“I thought I was getting a chest cold at first,” said Peggy Arnold, whose chronic asthma sometimes mirrors COVID symptoms, such as frequent coughing. “I started feeling really bad, but I didn’t have the high fever like Tommy did.”

Just two weeks earlier, Tommy Arnold, who is 74, had won Highland Country Club’s 36-hole senior golf championship. “That’s not a headline,” he said. “It was me and a group of other guys, all of which are over 70. None of us are ready for the PGA Tour.”

But despite the fact that Arnold led an active life and previously had been in good health, the next few weeks would lead to a struggle as he fought to live and to recover. It was an unforgettable ordeal that would leave him and his family grateful for the care he received on Cape Fear Valley Medical Center’s COVID unit.

“Until you go through something like this, Arnold, who did manage to get home on Nov. 25 after two weeks at Cape Fear Valley, eventually was able to wean himself off oxygen and bears no visible effects of the illness that has killed, to date, 260 Cumberland County residents.

He said he’s forever appreciative for the emotionally and physically exhausting job that frontline workers are doing to battle against the pandemic.
“I would tell caregivers in the hospital how impactful and beneficial they are to their patients and to me,” he said. “It’s a really good environment under the most challenging conditions. I left with the sense of wanting to do something to help.”

This experience has given him more appreciation for the healthcare industry and particularly those doctors and nurses that care for others. Arnold was thrilled to hear about Cape Fear Valley’s latest initiative with building a new state of the art facility to train the next generation of doctors.

He talked to Sabrina Brooks, executive director of Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation, and was pleased to learn that nurses, as well as doctors and residents, will benefit when the $30 million Center for Medical Education and Research. Cape Fear Valley broke ground on the five-story 120,000-square-feet structure in January.
The new center will include 5,000 square feet of simulation labs, including a fully simulated operating room and labor and delivery room.

“Nurses will be able to go over experiences they may have in real life,” Brooks said. “It will not only help train our new nurses, but it will attract others as well.”
Brooks said that Arnold’s praise for the Cape Fear Valley staff is meaningful.

“I can’t say enough words of appreciation for his expressions of gratitude,” she said. “It makes us so proud of the staff and the care they give to the community, especially in a pandemic.

“It was neat to hear those words from someone like him who works in the customer service industry – and we all know the high quality of customer service Chick-fil-A provides,” she said. “For him to recognize that same quality of care in our staff just means the world.”