NJ correctional police officer home after 111-day battle against COVID-19

Chris Stanek, 46, who works at South Woods State Prison, was taken from his home by ambulance on May 20 after falling ill


By Matt Gray
NJ Advance Media Group

CAMDEN COUNTY, N.J. — Co-workers and family gathered at a rehab center in Camden County on Tuesday to celebrate a man who has battled the coronavirus since May.

After more than a hundred days away from his family — between his hospital stay and a stint at PowerBack Rehabilitation in Voorhees Township — Chris Stanek is finally going home.

Chris Stanek waves to officers from across the state as well as rehab facility personnel as he is released from PowerBack Rehabilitation. (Photo/Lori M. Nichols for NJ.com via TNS)
Chris Stanek waves to officers from across the state as well as rehab facility personnel as he is released from PowerBack Rehabilitation. (Photo/Lori M. Nichols for NJ.com via TNS)

The veteran state corrections officer was greeted by members of NJ PBA Local 105 and officers from law enforcement agencies from around the state who gathered in front of the rehab to celebrate his victory over the disease and provide him an escort back to his house in Bridgeton.

Stanek, 46, who works at South Woods State Prison, was taken from his home by ambulance on May 20 after developing a fever, breathing problems and disorientation, his wife, Jean, explained in July.

He remained at Cooper University Hospital in Camden for months, where he was intubated and placed on a ventilator twice and put on continuous dialysis at one point. His condition would improve, then nosedive, Jean recalled, but she credited her faith in God and support of family and friends for getting the couple through the worst of it.

Stanek exited the rehab on a stretcher Tuesday morning and was met with a round of applause and cheers from well-wishers and a hug from his wife. He gave a thumbs-up and expressed his gratitude for the support.

“I really appreciate it,” he told the crowd. “It makes me feel good.”

Asked how he felt at that moment, Stanek summed it up in one word: “Elated.”

“I’m so happy,” he said. “It’s been such a long time.”

He said he’s looking forward to his wife’s cooking and seeing his grandkids again. Stanek will continue his recovery at home under Jean’s watchful eye.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, she could only see her husband via video calls during those long months in the hospital.

“I’m not going to leave his side, that’s for sure,” his beaming wife said. "My husband’s been away from home for so long and now he’s finally coming home. He beat COVID. God is good.

“It’s a new beginning for us.”

Corrections officer Chris Stanek is greeted by event organizer Mike Gallagher as he is released from PowerBack Rehabilitation. (Photo/Lori M. Nichols for NJ.com via TNS)
Corrections officer Chris Stanek is greeted by event organizer Mike Gallagher as he is released from PowerBack Rehabilitation. (Photo/Lori M. Nichols for NJ.com via TNS)

PBA Local 105 Vice President Mike Gallagher launched a GoFundMe drive to help the family with its medical bills and related expenses.

Stanek knows all about helping others in need.

He previously volunteered for an ambulance squad, where he met Jean, and traveled to New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help at ground zero.

The couple married in 2004.

In addition to corrections department personnel, officers from various agencies, including police, sheriff’s officers and county corrections officers, turned out and formed a roughly 50-vehicle procession to Bridgeton, where an honor guard welcomed Stanek home. He traveled via ambulance.

Many feared he would not survive the illness.

“Chris has been sick for 111 days and he’s a true survivor,” Gallagher remarked. “He fought this and won. For him to be going home, it’s a blessing.”

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©2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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