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Weeks After a Heart and Kidney Transplant, My Husband Fought COVID-19 -- and Won

Irish_Porter
May 21, 2020

By Irish Turner, as told to Stephanie Watson

My husband Trent had lived with congestive heart failure and diabetes for so long, I feared they'd take his life. I never imagined that once he overcame these illnesses, he would nearly die from COVID-19.

Trent's heart problem has been with him since birth. His kidneys began failing during the summer of 2019, after he had surgery to replace the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that was helping his damaged heart pump.

He was on the heart and kidney transplant list in 2018, but was bumped off it due to high A1C levels. We didn't know how long it would take him to get a donor, if ever. His condition continued to decline -- it was scary. At his worst, Trent was so tired and short of breath that the only things he could do around the house were some easy chores and watching after our five-year-old son, Caleb.

When he finally got back on the list this past February and received an offer for the transplants two weeks later, it was everything we'd prayed for. The surgery was tough, and the doctor said Trent's heart was the biggest he'd ever worked on, but Trent responded well to the procedure.

It was while he was in the hospital recovering from his transplant surgery that Trent first heard about the new coronavirus. He told me, "I think we need to be concerned about this virus that's spreading in China." I was the one who brushed it off, saying, "Oh, it's probably nothing. I don't think it will come over here." But he was watching it closely the whole time.

Coronavirus Comes Home

In the middle of March, on the last day of school before spring break, our son came home sick.

It started with diarrhea and vomiting. He couldn't keep anything down. He had a high fever and flu-like symptoms. I took him to the emergency room and to his pediatrician. They all said, "He's fine. It's just viral. It will pass."

About ten days later, my symptoms started. I had a headache, sore throat, and a fever that spiked as high as 105 degrees. My body aches were horrible, and I had difficulty breathing.

I tried to isolate as much as I could in our three-bedroom apartment to protect my husband. I didn't want to be the one to make him sick. But we still had to spend time together while taking care of our son.

Three or four days after I got sick, Trent's symptoms began. It started extremely mild for him. He had cold-like symptoms, as if he had allergies.

I had the coronavirus test. It came back positive.

Trent then had the test too. Positive.

Over a period of two days, his breathing got worse.

We thought, "Not again. Not another hurdle to cross." We had already gone through so much to get him to this point.

Crisis Point

When Trent's oxygen level dropped, we contacted the hospital's post-transplant coordinator, who called an ambulance to come get him. Of course, because of COVID-19, I couldn’t go with him.

An hour or two later, he was put on a ventilator at UF Health Shands Hospital -- the same hospital where he'd had his transplants. Doctors there put him into a medically induced coma.

Before Trent went under, we talked on FaceTime. For the first time, I broke down and cried in front of him. He reassured me that he was going to be ok. He said, "This isn't it. I'll see you later."

Those words were enough for me. From that moment, I put my head in a positive space.

It wasn't easy. My own breathing got so bad at one point that I was afraid I wasn't going to wake up. My friends were FaceTiming and calling me every two hours to make sure I was ok. They sent groceries, but I was so weak that I could barely bring them in from the front door.

I was at the apartment sick with my five-year-old son, my husband was in the hospital on a ventilator, and I was thinking, "What am I going to do?"

It took a lot of prayer and faith. I listened to gospel music every day, all day. I worked with Caleb on his reading and math. And somehow, we made it through.

I'm Still Here

Trent was on the ventilator for six days. The first thing he said to me on FaceTime once the tube came out and he could talk was, "I'm still here. Just like I said."

I was jumping inside. I wanted to see him so bad.

He did have some issues. While he was in a coma they had to stop immune-suppressing drugs he'd been taking to prevent organ rejection so his immune system could fight the virus. His heart appeared weaker, and the doctors couldn't tell if his body was rejecting his new heart, or if the coronavirus was weakening his heart. They helped balance his immune system with medication and held off on treating for rejection out of concern that the virus might get worse. After several days, Trent's heart function improved.

Relief

The hospital kept Trent for another four days before he was able to come home.

It was such a relief to finally have him at home, because we are a true partnership. We've been doing everything together ever since we started dating, throughout our whole marriage.

Trent has been home for about a week and we're doing great. He's full of energy. I can't sit him down. He acts as if COVID never happened.

I went back to work at our home health care agency. Meanwhile, Trent is been doing a lot of cooking. He's a great cook. He's back in his element.

Both Trent and I are grateful that we're all ok. We're thankful for life, and for each other.

 

 

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