STELLARTON, N.S. -- After spending 77 days in hospital, battling for his life against COVID-19, a Nova Scotia man returned home Wednesday -- the same day as his daughter’s 40th birthday.

A group of well-wishers stood in the rain outside Rick Cameron’s Stellarton, N.S., house to welcome him home, cheering as his family pulled into the driveway.

“It’s wonderful to be home,” said Cameron.

Cameron’s family hasn’t been able to see him in person since the 69-year-old was admitted to hospital on March 19. He tested positive for COVID-19.

Cameron’s daughter, Kelly Marshall, says his return has been the best birthday present ever.

“I had the best ever day so far,” she said with a grin.

“I woke up and I got to go pick my Papa up.”

Cameron started experiencing a cough and fever on March 13. Thinking he had the flu, he tried to treat it with over-the-counter medications at home. However, over the next several days, his symptoms worsened to the point where he was having trouble breathing.

“We called the ambulance, so I went to the Aberdeen [Hospital] for a night,” he recalled.

“Then they sent me over to Truro to the COVID ward, and I swabbed positive.”

Cameron says, after that, he doesn’t remember much of anything for the next month.

Soon after he tested positive for COVID-19, he was put into intensive care.

“It was horrible,” said his wife, Faye Cameron.

In this same time period, Faye and Kelly also tested positive for the virus and were ill at home and self-isolating. Even so, Faye says she called the hospital several times to day to see how her husband was doing.

Faye remembers the morning the doctor called to say her husband had been put on a ventilator.

“They had intubated him through the night,” she said.

“It was very scary. His oxygen was down to 65 they told me. They actually told me he was saying a prayer when he was going to the hall [to be intubated].”

Kelly says that was the start of a harrowing time for the family, who couldn’t visit him in the hospital due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The beginning of April was bad,” she said with tears in her eyes. “That’s when we thought we could lose him.”

Her dad’s condition improved when medical staff decided to turn him over in the hospital bed, putting him into a new position, to improve his circulation.

Soon after that, on his wife’s birthday, Cameron’s fever broke and he opened his eyes for the first time in more than 30 days.

The family was soon able to see Cameron through video chats and, on April 25, he left the intensive care unit. He started doing physiotherapy in hospital, and just started walking on his own with the help of a cane last week.

Cameron says he’s still weak and he lost 45 pounds during his illness.

“I couldn’t imagine being that weak,” he said. “If you get this stuff, it’s no fun.”

While her father was sick, Kelly kept a detailed account of his battle against the virus on a Facebook page, updating friends, family, and followers on her father’s progress. It’s now a record of the time her dad got COVID-19 and beat it.

The experience, they say, has changed their lives and refocused their priorities.

“You just want to concentrate on each other more than anything else,” said Faye.

“So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Cameron says the care he received in hospital was second-to-none and he is happy to be at home with his family.

He also says the experience showed him he has more friends than he ever thought he had.

“I would like to … thank everybody near and far that’s reached out and supported me and my family,” he says.

“It’s not much to say, ‘thank you’, but it’s all I can.”