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BREADCRUMB

FAMILY, FAITH AND FR. SOLANUS

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September 10, 2021

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Notre Dame alum nearly dies after contracting COVID-19, says an abundance of faith, prayers, family, "phenomenal" medical staffers — and Fr. Solanus Casey — were responsible for his eventual recovery.

Alum Mike Lesnau ND'72 is at his company, Lesnau Printing, after recovering from COVID-19.


With COVID-19 cases rising again thanks to the surging Delta variant, there has been a renewed push globally to go back to some of the protocols that were dropped when this past spring turned into summer. For many who were infected in the early-to-late stages of the pandemic last year, it's a grim reminder of what they went through.

Enter Notre Dame alum Mike Lesnau ND'72, who knows all too well how indiscriminately the virus chooses its victims. He was diagnosed in November of 2020 after a routine physical with his doctor. 

"I really can't definitely say it happened there, but shortly after my physical, I was starting to feel lousy," he said. "I had a slight fever and felt rundown and called my daughter Sarah NDP'01, who works at St. Joe's hospital in Pontiac. She got me in and since the testing was kind of hard to come by back then, she managed to get the hospital to test me immediately."

The next day, the hospital called to say Lesnau was positive, which led to a self-imposed seclusion at his home.

"That was no problem for me since I live alone," he said. "But I wouldn't let my kids in or anybody else check on me and I started to rapidly deteriorate physically."

Lesnau recalls that his fever, headache and lack of energy were fairly consistent and didn't seem to be getting any worse, but it was his daily phone calls with his kids that led him and his family to take what symptoms he had more seriously. 

"Apparently, I was not making much sense during our conversations and my breathing sounded too labored," he said.

So his son, Mike NDP'06, drove over to his house in Bruce Township to take him to the hospital. "Mikey" was met at the house by his sister, Sarah, and and his dad's sister, Cindy. 

"When they arrived, I was sitting shivering with a hoodie sweatshirt on, which was soaking wet, unbeknownst to me," he said. 

Out by Thanksgiving?

Mike got his father in the car right away and headed to Beaumont Hospital in Troy with Sarah and Cindy following in a separate car. 

"I felt awful on the way to the hospital, but had to laugh at the time because Mikey said, 'Dad, you have to know how much I love you now because I'm the one in the car with you and the other two are in a different car.'"

When they got to the hospital, they only were able to drop him off since no visitors were allowed. He said he still had his phone with him, which, he said, was probably a mistake because he spent too much time on it when he should have been resting.

"So that was Nov. 18 when I went in, which ironically was the day six years ago when my wife, Debbie, was admitted to the hospital just before she died. But I was determined to get through this quickly and I set a goal of getting out by Thanksgiving, which was the following week. It also was the first time I've ever been admitted to a hospital and I wanted out ASAP."

But the virus had other plans for Lesnau. The hospital staff immediately put him in a high-output oxygen room along with another patient with COVID. 

"He wasn't a Notre Dame guy, but he knew someone who knew a Notre Dame graduate, so we had at least something in common besides the virus," he said. "But he actually got out of the hospital by Thanksgiving, which kind of ticked me off a bit."

Turns out, not being home by Thanksgiving was the least of his concerns as the virus continued to ravage his body to the point where he was worried he might not go home at all.

"I kept telling the nurses that I was feeling okay even though I wasn't," he said. "But they knew better and were giving me increasing amounts of oxygen to help keep my blood-oxygen level up. They had me on an oxygen face mask 24-7, which made my daily phone calls to family even harder, especially since I apparently was making even less sense then usual, they tell me."

By early December, because his vitals were deteriorating so much, the hospital staff put Lesnau on a ventilator, a treatment that for him lasted a month. He said he couldn't get out of bed at all, not even to go to the bathroom.

"It was a solid four weeks on the ventilator and in intensive care," he said. "I had chest tubes coming out of me and a feeding tube. I was a mess."

Despite his treatment and after weeks of intubation on the ventilator, which means a tube connected to the ventilator was in Lesnau's windpipe, his condition worsened. Because of his ongoing pulmonary instability, his doctor at Beaumont, Jon Lezotte NDP'06, decided to perform a tracheotomy in a desperate attempt to get badly needed oxygen more quickly into his lungs. 

Do not resuscitate

"Sarah told me that the hospital actually called her at that point and explained options that included a recommendation for a 'do not resuscitate,'" he said. "They told her that they may not be able to hold on to her dad if he codes."

Since his daughter was a nurse, she knew more than most about COVID, and didn't accept that recommendation. 

"Sarah reminded the staff at the hospital that she was a nurse and they immediately changed their tune," Lesnau said. "They told her that maybe now they'll just monitor the situation and then decide later a course of action."

It was about that time, according to Lesnau, that he believes he received some additional help from on high.

Lesnau co-owns Lesnau Printing Company in Sterling Heights, which has for nearly 50 years provided work for the Marists at both Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods and Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac. The company also has a longstanding business relationship with the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Capuchins at the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit. 

Lesnau looks over a press sheet at his printing company, which has been doing work for the Marists and Notre Dame for nearly 50 years.


"A woman named Connie, who was a longtime supporter of the Capuchins and for whom we had done some recent printing, found out about my condition," he said. "Apparently, she was constantly on the phone with the guys at the shop asking how I was doing." 

Because of her connection with the Capuchins, she decided to send Lesnau a Fr. Solanus Casey relic badge, which contained the essence of Casey, a priest of the Catholic Church and a professed member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin who served most of his life in Detroit. (He died in 1957 at St. John Hospital in Detroit and was beatified in 2017, getting him another step closer to sainthood.)

Lesnau's son Mike dropped the relic off at the hospital and it was placed on his dad's headboard by hospital staff. Soon, Lesnau, who just prior to that time had a lung collapse, experienced a dramatic improvement. 

"The very next day I started getting better and they took me off the ventilator," he said. "I know it sounds hard to believe, but it's the honest-to-God truth. It was around the beginning of January."

Shortly thereafter Lesnau was transferred from Beaumont to Select Specialty Hospital in Mount Clemens, which is for patients with medically complex conditions, to begin what he hoped was his rehab and eventual recovery.

Not a great way to lose weight

But while his breathing was improving, albeit in small increments, he did have some setbacks.

"It was in early January when I was diagnosed with pancreatitis, which eventually affected my gallbladder and they had to insert a drainage tube to relieve the pressure in it. I also had a feeding tube inserted because I was too weak to eat anything. I remember a sheet and a light blanket on me felt like they were made out of lead. I just couldn't move at all."

Lesnau added that he lost about 60 pounds throughout his COVID ordeal. "But I wouldn't recommend this kind of diet to anybody," he said, with a grin.

After finally recovering from most of his major COVID side effects, it was time to begin a more intense rehabilitation process that included learning how to walk again. 

"I mean, like, I was so proud that I could take six steps back then," he said. "And that was with a walker."

His rehabilitation included a three-week stay back at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac and was eventually discharged to continue therapy at his daughter's house, where he would receive home visits three days a week.

"I told Sarah that I was fighting to go back home to be on my own again and to be less of a burden on her," he said. "But she really didn't want me to go because she thought I wasn't as strong as I thought it was. I finally won that argument and eventually came home."

He did another three or four weeks of home-visit rehab and then outpatient rehab until about mid-May when he started to drive himself again. 

Aftereffects and Fr. Solanus

Lesnau couldn't say enough about the care he received throughout his entire ordeal. 

"From the doctors and nurses at St. Joe's, Beaumont and Select Hospital in Mount Clemens to all the aides and techs helping me during rehab, they were all phenomenal," he said. "I'm sure I wouldn't be here today if not for them. And my kids and the rest of my extended family, including my business partners, [cousin Paul Lesnau ND'72 and brother Jim Lesnau ND'81] were so giving and helpful; they were unbelievable."

While he cannot say he's at 100 percent — he's got what he says is a drop foot that requires a special brace and he has a finger that doesn't move quite like it once did — he's very happy where he is currently. He can see his family whenever he wants and he's back to work at Lesnau Printing full time.

He also wants to strongly encourage others to take the virus seriously.

"I got my vaccine as soon as I was able to after recovering," he said. "COVID is bad news; it's not a cold; it's not the flu. It can kill you just like it almost killed me. I tend toward the conservative side politically, but I can't stress enough how important it is for everyone to get the vaccine and wear masks. I also can't imagine how guilty I would feel if I was responsible for putting someone through what I went through. Or worse."

He also stressed how important faith was to him during his nearly 90 days of illness and recovery in the various hospitals.

"If not for the strength I received from my parish and all those virtual Masses, the prayers I received from countless friends and relatives, and, of course, Fr. Solanus, who knows where I would be now. I don't really want to even think about it."

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.