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A surprise welcome home for a man who spent 63 days in the hospital

A Lancaster County community is going above and beyond to celebrate their neighbor's important milestone.

A Lancaster County community is going above and beyond to celebrate their neighbor's important milestone.

Thursday morning, police, fire, EMS, neighbors, family, and friends honored a West Donegal Township man who recently spent 63 days fighting for his life.

"I never knew so many people cared," 35-year-old Joshua Peifer told FOX43.

A 35-year-old Lancaster County man spent 63 days between the hospita... l & rehab - at times, fighting for his love. Now, he's home in time for Mother's Day - a few days earlier than expected thanks to determination & a love for mom. The community showed up in a tremendous way.

Joshua didn’t realize how much love he had until it paraded right past his home Thursday morning. His mother would say he didn’t know his own strength either. 

"He had some internal fortitude he wasn't aware of and this experience kind of brought it out," said Kelly Digiulio, Joshua's mother.

"63 days between the hospital and rehab," explained Joshua. "Thinking I had a bladder infection, and I ended up having gastroparesis and pneumonia. It's still a blur to me; I don't even know."

Joshua spent 49 days at Lancaster General Health, 46 of which he spent hooked up to ventilator. Then, Joshua spent an additional 14 days in rehab where he relearned basic functions, such as eating and walking. He wasn't supposed to be home yet, but Joshua had one goal, which was to make it home in time for Mother's Day.

"They told me to rest and take a break, and I didn't want to take a break," explained Joshua. "I just wanted to push on and keep staying motivated. I love it because now I am here."

It was a welcome home unlike any other and a Mother's Day celebration more than 15 years in the making.

"It means the world to me," Joshua said through tears. "It's been probably 20 years since I had Mother's Day with my mom because I lived in Florida. She lived up here, and I got to talk to her on the phone but not never been able to hug her and kiss her and let her know how much I love her and appreciate her."

"I am just grateful and thankful that I have a son to celebrate Mother's Day with this week because it was so touch and go and very scary," added Kelly.

While there are many things Joshua missed, like many sons, there is one thing he missed the most. 

"My mom's cooking," he said with a smile.

Joshua's mom says there will be plenty of that in the days to come.

It's not the first time first responders paraded past a neighbor's house. Elizabethtown Police Chief Ed Cunningham says his officers have also honored birthdays and retirements. When asked why they do it, Chief Cunningham sent this statement:

"All of the public safety partners that participate in these drive-by celebrations really appreciate the fact that our residents have asked us to celebrate with them. We recognize that during the current COVID-19 health emergency, everyone is feeling a bit more stressed, a bit more apprehensive, and (probably) a lot more alone. When we saw that there were members of our communities, especially kids, who were celebrating their special days without having their friends and families gathered for large parties, we felt that we just needed to do something. As of right now, we have or have scheduled over 30 of these drive-by celebrations, and every one of them has included police, fire and medics. The fact that we get to take a few minutes out of our day to help someone celebrate their special day is really something that energizes us. Our communities support us day-in and day-out, and we know that they really appreciate what they do.  Having the opportunity to do this for them, to give our community members a big smile on a day that might otherwise have been sad and lonely, makes everything that we do worthwhile.  At the end of the day, we are community members too, and doing this for our neighbors really makes us feel happy. Participating in a celebration like today’s is extra special, though.  To be able to join that young man’s friends and family to welcome him home from the hospital was the highlight of my day, and the officers who participated couldn’t stop smiling!  We hope that he was as happy to see us as we were to see him come home!"

When asked how he felt after the parade, Joshua had one word: happiness. It's safe to say Chief Cunningham's hope came to life.