“Don’t Lose Faith,” Says COVID-19 Survivor After 40 Days in Intensive Care Unit
One of the most difficult questions of the COVID-19 pandemic is why some patients get hit with the disease much harder than others. Both David Brewster, 46, of Sevierville and his 28-year-old son, also named David, tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time in the fall.
“My oldest son and I work together. We both got tested and both of us were positive,” says Brewster. “He was back at work in 10 days. But I couldn’t even get into a chair without my oxygen dropping and my heart rate spiking. My oxygen level dropped down to 57 percent. I called an ambulance to come get me. I woke up on life support 21 days later.”
Brewster was taken to LeConte Medical Center, where he spent 40 days in the intensive care unit. Brewster’s wife and younger son also tested positive for the virus but did not have any severe complications.
Why do family members experience such different outcomes? Often the difference seems to be age-related – older people are more likely to have complications – and in Brewster’s case, a preexisting lung condition. He is a former coal miner and has lung scarring from a previous bout with pneumonia.
“If you have any pre-existing pulmonary illness, like asthma or emphysema, it is much more likely you’re going to have complications from COVID-19,” says Allen C. Smith, MD, vice-chief of staff and pulmonologist at LeConte, who treated Brewster.
Brewster received medications, therapies and breathing treatments for COVID-19. He also spent eight days in a special rotational bed to improve breathing. The large, padded, tube-like bed rotates ventilator patients every few hours from face-down (patients experiencing breathing issues often find relief lying on their stomachs) to face-up.
“In general, we try not to intubate a patient unless we have to with COVID-19,” says Dr. Smith. “In Mr. Brewster’s case, without it he would have died. If we don’t have a rotational bed available, we can manually move patients back and forth from their stomachs to their backs, to allow different parts of the lungs to recruit more air.”
Brewster counts himself as fortunate. He returned home 40 days later on his birthday.
“They made a big deal about it when I left the hospital,” he says. “They had doctors and nurses line the hall with balloons. I had a really good doctor. He walked me all the way to the car and wrote a prayer on my discharge papers. I’ve got a lot of respect for that man.”
Once at home, Brewster still faced recovery time. “After 40 days in a bed, I had to go through physical therapy. I had to learn to walk again, use the bathroom again. It’s been a journey, that’s for sure,” he says. “A lot of people think COVID is a joke. This is ten times worse than any pneumonia you’ve ever had. It’s real and people need to realize that.
“My advice would be to just pray. And don’t lose your faith; that’s the only way I think I was healed. I had so many people supporting and praying for me. And LeConte Medical Center was a real good hospital. I’d give it a ‘10.’ They took good care of me,” says Brewster.