A lifetime playing and coaching sports kept David Steen in pretty good shape, but a particularly severe bout of COVID-19 has left the retired Klamath Union physical education teacher on supplemental oxygen — possibly for the rest of his life.

Steen, 78, helped develop Steen Sports Park and has been a longtime community staple. He said he is thankful for the support he has received during his illness, and he is also thankful for the chance to share his story with others. He said he hopes his experience will help at least one person make the right decision when it comes to getting vaccinated.

Steen did not get vaccinated, and he says that was a mistake. He believes in a person’s right to make that decision for themselves and is against mandates requiring employees to get the shot, but he says he clearly should have been vaccinated and having gotten the jab would likely have lessened his suffering.

“People should be able to have that choice. And my choice was not good, and here’s the reason: I didn’t think it through far enough,” Steen said.

Now, recovering at his Klamath Falls home, Steen is feeling better. But his lungs have been seriously damaged, and he must be careful not to overexert himself.

Sitting on his bed next to about 50 feet of coiled blue oxygen tubing which allows him to maneuver around the house, Steen requires oxygen 24/7. When he leaves his home, he has a small metal air tank he must keep with him.

“Do I have to be on oxygen for the rest of my life? I don’t know that. But we’ll have to see,” Steen said.

Steen’s bout with COVID started in June when he was on vacation in Yachats with his wife Claudia, his son Justin, his daughter-in-law Mandy and his two granddaughters.

He began to feel tired, started coughing and could barely eat. Typically an active person, Steen found himself struggling on hikes with his family.

“I slept almost the whole time I was there,” Steen said of his trip to the coast. “I went on a couple of hikes with them but it was really a chore.”

At some point his family realized something was the matter.

‘Dad, this isn’t you,’ Justin told his father.

In retrospect, Steen had a feeling he caught the virus over Memorial Day weekend while he was out doing field maintenance at Steen Sports Park, where he was exposed to thousands of people, he said.

When he returned to Klamath Falls, he got tested for the virus at an urgent care clinic. When he learned he was positive, he said he was “scared to death.”

“I knew I was in for a long ride somewhere,” Steen said.

After his diagnosis, he spent seven or eight days in the hospital, but luckily did not have to be placed on a ventilator to help his breathing.

“The COVID thing is scarier than what I thought it was,” Steen said. “It’s tough when you struggle with breathing, which you never thought you would ever have.”

Steen said before catching the virus, he just didn’t trust the vaccine. He had heard of a small percentage of people who were getting sick or dying from the shot, so he decided to take that chance.

“I had all kinds of opportunities, my wife wanted me to get a shot, my son wanted me to get a shot, my friends wanted me to get a shot,” Steen said. “I made a bad choice.”

In the end, Steen said the outpouring of support he received from his former students, colleagues, and even some high school friends he has not seen in many years, is what kept his spirits up and helped him push through.

”Of course it starts from heaven on down,” Steen laughed. “He’s not ready for me yet ... he doesn’t want to deal with me.”

— Reporter Joe Siess can be reached at (541) 885-4481 or jsiess@heraldandnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @jomsiess