‘The Booster Started an Avalanche of Symptoms That Just About Took His Life’
In 1977, Gordon and Cathryn Andresen settled in the Santa Rosa Valley between Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. They raised two children there, and Gordon, a mechanical engineer, commuted to Long Beach for 35 years to run a manufacturing plant. He retired in 2016 to operate the family’s small avocado farm.
“We live in a 100-year-old house which has a lot of maintenance, so Gordon’s accustomed to being physical here on this property in many capacities,” says Cathryn.
Their daughter, who lives in Ventura County, says her father was usually “out doing ranch work, throwing the ball to the 80-pound Labrador retriever. He was active and normal for a 75-year-old.”
When COVID shots became available, the Andresens were “eager to try” them, Cathryn says. “This is what was offered, and we were in a very vulnerable position, as were most of our friends, because of our age group and our other health issues. We took it willingly.”
Gordon and Cathryn experienced no negative symptoms with their first Pfizer shots and no recognizable symptoms with their second.
But everything changed the day they took their boosters.
“The booster on Nov. 17 started an avalanche of symptoms that just about took his life,” says Cathryn. “After the booster when the symptoms started, he was downhill — from the booster to crisis and near death.”
Both Gordon and Cathryn received booster shots at 3 p.m. in Simi Valley on that November day, three months ago. Forty-five minutes later, while in the market, Gordon “didn’t feel well, and he didn’t look right,” Cathryn recalls. “His face was getting kind of weird — puffy, red, eye droopy, a little bit swollen. He said, ‘I need to sit down.’ That’s not like Gordon.”
They decided to go right home, but Gordon’s vision had become so poor so suddenly that he had to pull over and let Cathryn drive. She took him to an urgent care clinic in Thousand Oaks.
“The urgent care doctor determined there was no anaphylactic issue, so he didn’t know what was going on,” she says. “We didn’t know what was going on. So we went home with the advice to follow up with his physician.”
The next day, Cathryn took Gordon to the emergency room of a Woodland Hills hospital where he “had lots of tests, lots of scans,” Cathryn says. “The ER doctor looked him over really good but could find no emergency. So the answer was, ‘Follow up with your physician.’”
“It was absolutely horrible to see him gasping for breath and not able to do anything but try and get air in. All he could say was, ‘Call 911.’”
Before they could do that, Gordon’s situation became perilous.
“We stumbled around doing our best to find out what to do,” Cathryn says. “Meanwhile, his symptoms were getting worse.”
Three times over the following days, they called 911 because Gordon simply couldn’t breathe.
“After the booster, up until the crisis point, there would be times when my breathing would change,” Gordon says. “When the breathing gets to a very difficult point, that’s scary. Very short of breath. The breathing becomes rapid, short breaths and gasping. … I couldn’t overcome it.”
“It was absolutely horrible to see him gasping for breath and not able to do anything but try and get air in,” Cathryn says. “That was scary — very scary. And helpless. All he could say was, ‘Call 911.’”
As their daughter describes it, “He was literally dying in front of my eyes.”
Though paramedics did valiant work, he “was in very, very bad shape,” Cathryn says. On his final visit to the ER, they put him on a ventilator and sent him to the ICU.
“When he got there, all he could do was wiggle his toes, hear and squeeze the doctor’s hand,” Cathryn says. “Everything else shut down. He could not see, he could not breathe, he could not swallow, he could not eat, he could not walk, he could not control his arms. He was really shut down.”
In the ICU, doctors gave Gordon a tracheotomy and put a feeding tube in his stomach. What exactly was happening to him, nobody seemed to know, and in the meantime, Cathryn turned the farm operations and bookkeeping over to her adult children while she worked with multiple doctors to figure out what was wrong with her husband.
“It’s a huge administrative job to take care of someone who’s sick and no one knows [why],” she says. “Not only was it quite a shock, but it was a fight to find out, what the hell is this? What do we do about it? … It was a long time before we really knew what was wrong with him.”
Ultimately, his doctors and specialists concluded that Gordon now had myasthenia gravis, which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes as “a chronic autoimmune, neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles that worsens after periods of activity and improves after periods of rest.”
The NIH website continues, “These muscles are responsible for functions involving breathing and moving parts of the body, including the arms and legs. The name myasthenia gravis, which is Latin and Greek in origin, means ‘grave, or serious, muscle weakness.’ There is no known cure …”
After eight days in the ICU, Gordon was transferred to a step-down unit, where he stayed for three more weeks. Then he was released to continue recovering at home.
Today, back at the family ranch and avocado farm in the Santa Rosa Valley, Gordon’s diet remains restricted, and he only recently regained the ability to take care of his own hygiene. His ability to swallow has returned. His speech “is not back to full blast,” he says, as his throat recovers from the tracheotomy. He now takes 13 pills a day, up from four before his life-threatening experience. And, “There are some leftover issues maybe with the heart that I will see a cardiologist on, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal,” he says. “They are looking for A-fib. That’s the one possible thing that I could still have.”
He has undergone speech therapy, physical therapy and other therapies at home and is under the care of a neurologist who specializes in neuromuscular issues.
“This is new for us, and we’re feeling our way along,” Cathryn says of their present situation. “It’s been a really long, rough road, especially for Gordon. … He still isn’t completely healed, and there’s no cure for this.”
Though myasthenia gravis can be managed, it can also go into crisis, which is why Gordon no longer drives a car or his ranch ATV. And though her husband “came very close [to dying],” Cathryn is still sorting through her feelings about taking the COVID shots.
“I’m a little torn on this,” she says. “We truly believe this was [caused by] the vaccine series, and the booster kicked it over into really bad crisis — a myasthenia crisis: death imminent, meaning it was a big, bad deal. … But for me, I would hesitate to say to people, ‘Don’t get the booster because he got this.’ And yet I believe people ought to know this is something that can happen.”
“Pfizer was no help at all. They only wanted information for their purposes.”
She even called Pfizer at one point during the crisis, “When we had no answers,” she says.
“They wouldn’t talk to me until I answered a huge survey about all this action from his shot series,” she says. “Then they would offer no help. His doctor couldn’t call in and find out, ‘What’s with this?’ They wouldn’t help me any. They wouldn’t refer me to anybody. Finally, l ended the call by telling her, ‘I’m not here to give you statistics for your use; I’m here to get some help!’ And that was the end of that. Pfizer was no help at all. They only wanted information for their purposes.”
She has filed a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) report but confesses, “I don’t think that’ll help any, either.”
Gordon agrees: “No.”
“But we can’t just let it go altogether,” Cathryn says. “I mean, somebody needs to know about this.”
“We can’t just let it go. I mean, somebody needs to know about this.”
Gordon says that “One thing I came away with [in] all of this, in talking to friends is, what you get from the big authorities is, it’s one size fits all. And that is not the way we should go about doing things.”
Both adamantly oppose employer or government mandates for vaccines.
“What I am very much against is, there are people who are forced to take the vaccine series in order to keep their jobs, and I think that’s very, very wrong,” Cathryn says. “I’m for people being able to choose the course of their lives and their health. If they make bad decisions, that’s on them. You do the best you can, but if you make a bad decision, it was your decision, and you are responsible for it. … It’s wrong to mandate to the nation, and to the world, and to a class of people.”
She also feels terrible for the way children have been treated by schools and governments.
“Other than the deaths of all the elderly people, kids have gotten the worst deal out of it with all the masks,” she says. “There’s a huge double standard: ‘You have to get the vaccine, and you don’t. You have to stay six feet apart. You don’t. You have to wear a mask. They don’t.’ It got out of hand. It’s very much out of hand.”
Gordon, who used to watch and listen to a lot of news, says he has “lost a lot of confidence in the WHO, the NIH, the CDC and the FDA.”
“And also money,” Cathryn adds. “Before all of this, we weren’t aware of how much money is spent by whom and for whom. That’s out of whack, too. So there needs to be a lot of fixing. But this hits home personally, and globally and everything in between.”
The couple knows a number of friends who experienced some kind of negative reaction to the COVID shots. Gordon’s neurologist told him he has another patient in Ventura County who experienced issues similar to Gordon’s. One of Gordon’s own therapists, who left the house right before his interview with the Guardian, told Gordon that after her second shot, she developed a very serious cough that lasted for two months.
“[County public health officer] Robert Levin needs to start talking to all the neurologists in the community because they all have evidence of adverse reactions,” says the Andresens’ daughter.
As Gordon recovers, he tries to remain upbeat.
“I’ve been home for a month. I feel pretty darn good because I’m off the walker,” he says. “The physical therapist has me doing exercises that make me feel stronger than I was a year ago.”
He also tries to be sympathetic in his assessment of doctors.
“I think doctors have a lot of stuff that they can’t talk about,” he says, measuring his words.
As for more COVID shots, he’s not interested.
“When they require a fourth booster, I’m not going,” he says.