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Manhattan Beach Native Passes After Lengthy COVID-19 Battle

Nov 29, 2021 04:29PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Photo via the Dellenbach family

Manhattan Beach native Eric Dellenbach, who had spent the past 11 months battling COVID-19 complications and endured a double lung transplant, passed away on November 24 at a San Francisco hospital.

"Our beloved and brave Eric passed peacefully earlier this evening surrounded by his loved ones, listening to music of waves crashing," wrote his sister-in-law Sam Schacher on the fundraising page that has become a center for information for friends and family. "His family was able to say their goodbyes, and our incredibly brave Eri [his wife Erika] was laying on him, holding him, and kissing him as he crossed that finish line, in first place. As shattered as we all are - it was a send-off fit for a king. Well deserved."

Dellenbach, 52, had been hospitalized since early January and received the double lung transplant on April 12. He had been an otherwise healthy and active surfer with no underlying medical conditions before contracting COVID.

Dellenbach lived in Seattle with his wife Erika and twin 8-year-olds, but still has family members in Manhattan Beach and the South Bay. During Dellenbach's ordeal, his family has received overwhelming support from the Manhattan Beach community through a GoFundMe page that has served not only as a financial resource but also as a hub for reviving old connections and friendships and as a prayer circle for Dellenbach's recovery.

His brother Andy wrote a tribute to him on Thanksgiving in which he expressed gratitude to all of the family, friends, and health care workers who stood by him throughout his journey. 

"I am thankful that Eric’s battle is over and he is not struggling to breathe, is not in pain anymore and showed us what it looks like to fight like a warrior. I am thankful that Eric reminded me - and all of us - how precious life is…every breath, every hour, every day," wrote Andy. "Today, on this Thanksgiving, let’s celebrate all that Eric taught us through his life, his battle and his passing and be thankful that we have but a brief time on Earth, to be grateful for each other and to make the most of it."

A Celebration of Life will be held at some point in the new year, Schacher told DigMB.

A Long and Torturous Journey

Dellenbach's ordeal began when he entered the hospital in Seattle in early January struggling with lung complications from COVID-19. Doctors soon concluded that he would not survive unless he was on a highly specialized ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) life support machine. However, his hospital did not have an ECMO machine, and since those machines are in short supply, a patient has to qualify to be able to be placed on one.

The family located a different hospital in Seattle - Swedish Hospital's Cherry Hill Campus - where cardiologist Dr. John Mignone agreed that Dellenbach was a good candidate for the machine.

During the difficult and risky transport process, Mignone also became one of Dellenbach's strongest advocates. He actually brought the ECMO machine to Eric - connecting him and then transporting him - because he believed Dellenbach would not make the transfer otherwise, said Schacher.

Dellenbach was on the ECMO machine for months. During that time, the family endured countless health scares, with medical professionals telling them that he was not likely to pull through. Eventually doctors decided that Dellenbach would need a double lung transplant to survive, but the prospect was once again risky because the organs are in short supply and there is still so much unknown about COVID-19 and its aftermath.

Family members - several of whom also work in health care - made calls all around the country to find a hospital that would accept Dellenbach as a double lung transfer patient. Finally, led by Erika’s sister Monika who is an RN, they were able to make arrangements for him to go to UC San Francisco, despite another risky hospital transfer. Dellenbach was at the medical center for about one week before a pair of lungs became available through a donor. The surgery was completed successfully on April 12. 

Since then, he has been in and out of UCSF and has gone through a roller coaster of medical progress as well as setbacks, which has been emotionally and physically draining on him as well as his family. The family remains grateful to UCSF for all they did, for always believing in him, and for always providing the best care, said Schacher. 

Earlier this month, his wife Erika wrote on the GoFundMe update: "My sweet love is the most amazing human being I have ever been blessed to know. He continues to smile his way through his darkest moments and hardly ever complains. He continues to be as positive as he can muster and his trust in his faith has never wavered. I can say with 100% certainty, I’ve never crossed paths in my lifetime with such an individual…NEVER! He is the best gift along with our twins Jax & Mia."

GoFundMe Unites Old Manhattan Beach Friends

The GoFundMe, created by Dellenbach's college friend Monte Brem, has currently raised more than $176,000 with a goal of hitting $200,000. 

The campaign has brought out some of his oldest friends from elementary school and throughout his life in Manhattan Beach. (Dellenbach's mother still lives in Manhattan Beach and his brother Andy is CEO of the Jimmy Miller Foundation.)

"Your community of Manhattan Beach is without a doubt one of the most supportive, uplifting communities," Schacher told DigMB in April. "The support has been absolutely astounding. They just stepped up with everything. Everybody from under the sun in that community that knew Eric made sure that they were seen and heard supporting him and praying for him. But that goes to Eric’s character as well. If you treat people with love and respect, they want to return the favor."

Schacher emphasized that the GoFundMe page has been vital not just for financial support, but for emotional support, and for uniting those that know Dellenbach together in prayers. It is now being used for prayers and support for Erika, Jax, and Mia. 

Schacher continued, "The amount of love and light that has come from that page - It's been a lifesaver. It's been a lifeline."

She said that she hoped that Dellenbach's story could provide awareness about both the possible complications of COVID-19 and about the critical need for organ donations.

"If we can make one person more cautious while we ride out this pandemic, that can save a life. If we can make one person a donor, that can save a life," she said.

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