‘Calm the freak down’: Cedar City man who nearly died of COVID-19 has a message

ST. GEORGE — Cedar City resident Kerry Gunter deals in safety. He runs K Safety, Inc., which supplies first aid equipment and other protective gear for employees, as well as facemasks to not only defend against COVID-19 but toxic fumes on construction sites.

Photo of Kerry Gunter July 21, 2021, location not specified | Photo courtesy Kerry Gunter Facebook page, St. George News

Gunter said he had been exposed to a lot beyond COVID-19 over the years and because of that felt like he was “100% immune.”

“I’ve been exposed like a thousand times. Never in my life had I had the flu. I’ve been exposed to every cootie out there. I have 0-negative blood. I’ve never even had a runny nose,” Gunter, 55, said. 

Yet, even as someone who supplies masks, Gunter said he “hates them” and doesn’t wear them when he doesn’t have to, and he hasn’t been vaccinated. There’s one reason why he hadn’t done either: He didn’t like being told what to do.

“What frustrates me are people trying to shame people into it. If you shame me into it, I’m not going to do it. Shaming people is never an effective method,” Gunter said. “I believe in vaccines. But it turned me off when people were trying to shame me into it.”

Then Gunter and his wife went to their doctor in Cedar City. She explained how mRNA technology had been around for several years. How it didn’t change DNA but was just a protein that was a tool to deliver instructions to cells on how to fight COVID-19. And Gunter said being educated by his doctor, rather than being scared, was effective. 

“We were not an easy sell. We had done our own personal research,” Gunter said. “After she sat us down and explained this like normal people, I was sold. The best place is go is talk to your doctor. They’re not going to kid around or give you bad information.”

The Gunters scheduled their shots. But shortly after his wife got her shot, she tested positive for COVID-19 and fell ill. Kerry took care of her and each day was still testing negative and still went to work that Friday, planning to get his shot when his wife recovered. Then on Saturday morning he felt worn out, and out of concern for his wife, he called Telehealth. The doctor on the other end didn’t tell him his wife needed to go to the hospital – the doctor said Gunter did. 

File photo of a hall of the intensive care unit inside what was then Dixie Regional Medical Center, now St. George Hospital, St. George, Utah, December 2020 | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

At the hospital, Gunter’s oxygen saturation was at 45%. That number should normally be over 90%. After days of negative tests, he tested positive. He was admitted to the hospital on a Monday, Aug. 2, and by Wednesday was another number of the dozens of COVID-19 patients in the St. George Regional Hospital intensive care unit. 

He said he came very close to never seeing another Sunday.

“On the 7th, I was going to be put on a ventilator. I was nearly gone. I was going to be dead,” Gunter said. 

After what he described as a “Hail Mary pass” from his doctor with a medication normally used to treat a type of arthritis, Gunter came from the brink of oblivion back to the land of the living and over five days recovered enough to leave the hospital on Aug. 12.

But even now, he must remain on an oxygen tank at home and can’t go to work. He is also newly saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt even with insurance and the mental costs of guilt behind surviving and also practically leaving behind five kids and his wife.

Messages from a COVID-19 survivor 

Gunter now wants to spread two messages: That people don’t want to get COVID-19, and those trying to convince people to wear masks and vaccinate to fight it need to talk to people as human beings, rather than scaring them.

Kerry Gunter, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 31, 2021 | Screenshot from Zoom interview, St. George News

“Look at my new attachment,” Gunter told St. George News, pointing to the cannula oxygen tube connected from his nose to a tank. “I can’t leave home. I can’t work. I almost died. There’s nothing positive that has come out of that.”

There’s also the monetary cost. 

“I don’t want COVID again. I’m looking at 50 grand in debt,” Gunter said. “If I didn’t have insurance, that would be 100 grand.”

And there’s the emotional cost consisting of survivor’s guilt and the guilt of the mess he would have left behind, and forcing his wife and kids to make the ultimate decision regarding his life. 

“Putting other people in a position to decide to unplug me … How fair is that?” Gunter said, adding that from what he has learned from his doctor, those who are vaccinated rarely end up in the hospital if they are infected. “If I would have gotten the vaccine, maybe I would have stayed home and been back to work.”

As of Wednesday according to the Utah Department of Health, of the 1,582,816 people in Utah who have been fully vaccinated in Utah, 591 (0.04%) have been hospitalized for COVID-19 and 54 vaccinated people (0.004%) have died.

Since getting out, Gunter has seen other family come down with COVID-19 – some badly. His sister-in-law is currently in Cedar City Hospital with COVID-19. His wife’s nephew just died of it.

Gunter hopes that he will soon be off oxygen, and he intends one of the first things he will do is get vaccinated. But even after his experience, he’s not telling anyone they have to get vaccinated. 

He said both medical and political leaders have been scaring and shaming people into getting vaccinated and wearing masks – telling them they have to – rather than just telling them why they need to. 

“We all as a whole need to calm the freak down,” Gunter said. “We don’t need to over-panic things.”

Gunter said he believes that people need to make their own choice.

“If they decide to get the vaccine, I love you. If they don’t, I love you,” Gunter said. “If you’re sitting on the fence, go see your doctor. There are so many avenues to make an educated decision. It’s your decision.”

Gunter cautions one of those avenues is not social media. 

“People who get all their COVID information off Facebook, I just laugh,” Gunter said, relating something a student in one of the CPR classes he conducts said to him. “She said, ‘My husband and I are drinking mineral spirits to stop COVID.’ I said it will make you immune because you’ll be dead.”

Ultimately, something Gunter said he learned from having COVID-19 nearly kill him is there isn’t a one-size fits all way to treat it, because COVID-19 strikes people in different ways

A ‘Hail Mary’ pass

File photo of a nurse in COVID-19 protective gear enters one of the rooms in the intensive care unit inside what was then Dixie Regional Medical Center, now St. George Hospital, St. George, Utah, December 2020 | Photo courtesy off Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

On Aug. 7, Gunter’s doctor was writing up the order to put him on a ventilator. His wife was told that once Gunter was on the ventilator, it was likely he would never come off it alive.

Even worse, because of a record number of COVID-19 patients in the last month,  St. George Hospital, like most hospitals nationwide, is dealing with a shortage of the monoclonal antibody Actemra — the main treatment for COVID-19. And there wasn’t the supply to treat Gunter.

But doctors have found medicines that had other purposes have been found able to help patients with severe COVID-19. But not every patient, as COVID-19 strikes each person in a different way. It is a literal trial-and-error of trying different treatments to see if one sticks. 

“The scary thing is this virus works different on people,” Gunter said. “What works on me might not work for other people.”

The last-ditch effort for Gunter was a drug for rheumatoid arthritis called Xeljanz.

“The doctor just decided to give it the college try,” Gunter said. 

And it worked. Though even while Gunter is continuing to feel better, he said he sometimes feels like he needs to take a “two-hour nap” after having a lengthy conversation. 

Xeljanz is one example of how the treatments and preventions for COVID-19 actually lie in a gray area, medical experts say. 

Vaccines don’t prevent 100% of COVID-19 infections. Masks don’t keep out the virus, but they keep out enough of the virus to prevent infection. And certain drugs help some COVID-19 patients recover but don’t work on others.

Nevertheless, Gunter has one word for those that treated him at St. George Regional Hospital: gratitude.

“The nursing staff down there was amazing,” Gunter said. “Man, they were just amazing. Probably some of the best nursing staff I’ve seen.”

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 12 and over. Those 12-18 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine. Use vaccinefinder.org to find clinics that have the Pfizer vaccine.
  • Those who can receive the second dose: Those who received their first injection 28 days or more before the appointment time.
  • Those who can receive a booster dose: Those who received Pfizer or Moderna previously and are immunocompromised.
  • The Southwest Utah Public Health Department and most pharmacies and stores are offering walk-up appointments.
  • Must wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment and should have a personal ID.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S. 400 East, St George

For hours and more information: Click here 

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

For hours and more information: Click here 

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab.

For hours and more information: Click here 

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St., Panguitch.

For hours and more information: Click here 

Beaver County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Beaver Office,  75 1175 North, Beaver.

For hours and more information: Click here 

St. George Regional Hospital/Intermountain Healthcare:

Where: 400 East Campus St. George Regional Hospital,  544 S. 400 East, St. George.

Reservations: Click to register

FourPoints Health:

Where: Various locations.

For hours and more information:: Click here

Revere Health:

Where: Revere Health Campus,  2825 E. Mall Drive, St. George.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 745 N Dixie Dr in St. George and 915 Red Cliffs Dr. in Washington City.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 1189 E. 700 South in St. George and 3520 Pioneer Parkway in Santa Clara.

Reservations: Click to register

Lin’s Marketpace:

Where: 1930 W. Sunset Blvd.  and 2928 E. Mall Drive in St. George, 1120 State St. in Hurricane and 150 N Main St. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register

Smith’s Food and Drug:

Where: 20 N. Bluff St. and 565 S. Mall Drive in St. George and 633 S. Main St. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 275 S River Rd. in St. George.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 2610 Pioneer Rd. in St. George, 625 W. Telegraph St. in Washington City, 180 N. 3400 West in Hurricane and 1330 S. Providence Center Dr. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register

Family pharmacies:

Where: Several locations

Reservations: Use vaccinefinder.org to find a location near you

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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