If he didn’t know it before, Ed McGaurn sure does now.
You have to learn to crawl before you can walk, and learn to walk before you can run. But before all of that, you have to learn how to breathe. And it’s something he’s likely to never take for granted again.
The owner and proprietor of The Soup Bar on West Broad Street in Palmyra, McGaurn is stationed at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in Marlton, after a month-long stay in the intensive care unit as COVID wreaked havoc on his health.
But all he can think about — minus the oxygen apparatus that will be a constant companion for the near future — is getting up, getting out and getting his business back on line to once again be a beacon of hope for the community.
In a text exchange from Kessler on April 14, McGaurn revealed that he’s been sidelined since March 12, when symptoms struck him right after he got home from work. He wisely took off the next day, a Saturday, hoping for the best.
But his condition worsened, making it necessary for a trip to the hospital. He stayed for two days, then was discharged and came home just wanting to sleep it off. Yet his breathing got worse, and McGaurn went into Virtua Voorhees Hospital on March 16. He received a diagnosis soon after of COVID-related pneumonia.
Just a day later, McGaurn recalled, he had to be taken to intensive care, where he remained for three weeks. He fought against what seemed to be an inevitable move.
“They wanted to put me on a ventilator, and I told them I didn’t want it. I told them I would try laying on my stomach, which I read was very helpful,” he explained. “My oxygen went up a bit and they made a decision to try it (my way). This whole ordeal ravaged me physically, and I’ll be on oxygen for a bit.”
Open fewer than six months when the pandemic brought things to a halt, McGaurn kept The Soup Bar vital by offering free soups and sandwiches to local children, older adults and anyone else needing a pick-me-up. He later added a small food pantry for anyone who needed a quick hit of nonperishable supplies.
Anita Matyjaszek, a Cinnaminson resident who calls herself “just a local person who admired the strength and determination” of McGaurn, happened upon his business by accident.
“I work for a nearby company and we were looking for places to eat,” she told the Sun on April 12. “It was so good, those homemade soups. He was just gaining speed with the business when they had to shut down the inside.”
Sometime later, Matyjaszek met one of McGaurn’s employees, who said he was collecting food for seniors. She walked in, and was astonished to see the whole floor covered with all kinds of goods packaged for those in need.
“I personally had a friend who has seven kids, and he not only fed them but gave them chicken,” she related.
Matyjaszek subsequently established a GoFundMe page in late March to help with recovering costs associated with a prolonged hospital stay. As of deadline, the fund is fast approaching its goal of $10,000. McGaurn’s three co-workers — Antoinette, Stephanie and Jennifer — have also felt the pinch of closure.
“There’s no relationship here,” Matyjaszek noted. “I just feel if you do a good job and help people, you need to be recognized. All he’s (McGaurn) talking about is getting out, asking me if I could help get the word out about the reopening. He’s good at cooking and I’m good at (advertising).”
McGaurn was finally moved out of Virtua and into Kessler on April 12. He was determined to walk out of the hospital on behalf of the mountain of goodwill and good wishes he received from friends, neighbors and the community at large.
“I received so many nice words, and it really shows what a great community (Palmyra and Riverton) are,” he said. “I have met some amazing people who have reached out to me (during my health struggle). It gave me strength to get motivated.”
McGaurn isn’t able to do much once on his feet. He’s on a breathing machine to start regaining his stamina, since his oxygen level drops significantly when he exerts himself at all. He knows it’s a very slow process to return to normal. Like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.
The first thing he wants to do once he exits rehab? Open The Soup Bar, of course. But not for himself, McGaurn offered.
“After going through all this, I know I want to help people more.”
To contribute to McGaurn’s recovery, visit: https://gofund.me/bdf44ae5.