COVID patient discharged after 75 days, four hospital stays and life-saving ECMO treatment

August 20, 2020

Allen was admitted to Baptist Health Louisville on June 5 with COVID-19.

Chris Allen thought a bratwurst on the grill sounded wonderful – and postcard-perfect days like today seem to be made for a grilling on the back porch.

After spending 75 days hospitalized with COVID-19, Allen missed many of summer’s traditions. The meal is one he is looking forward to with celebration and eager excitement. 

“He’s a true miracle,” said his wife Gina. He’s been told he’s not supposed to be here. He’s here for a reason.” 

Allen was admitted to Baptist Health Louisville on June 5 with COVID-19.

The family was initially stunned by the diagnosis. Gina stated that they followed all the rules. “We always wear our masks. We clean and wipe down everything. I am not sure where he picked it up. That’s what scared me for everyone. You can’t be too careful.”

For Gina and the family, Allen’s diagnosis and the critical care that followed was nothing short of shocking. Allen had no underlying medical conditions, and had never really been sick or had even taken any medications.  “Because he’d never been sick, he doesn’t know how to experience any of this.”

Allen’s condition deteriorated quickly, demanding more critical measures to ensure possible recovery – and even survival. 

Ten days out from his diagnosis, he was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a life support system used for patients critically ill with lung or heart conditions. He was then transferred to UK HealthCare for long-term care with the potentially life-saving technology.

William Dillon, MD, interventional cardiologist, and director of the ECMO program and the cardiac cath lab at Baptist Health Louisville, explained ECMO not as a cure, but rather a system that takes the burden off the body. 

ECMO takes blood from the body via an IV and processes it in a machine where the carbon dioxide is removed and oxygen is added. The blood is then returned to the body through another vein, where it runs to the lungs and is pumped out by the heart to the rest of the body. “It takes over the job of the lungs, allowing them to rest,” said Dillon. “ECMO supports the body and allows recovery.”

After 32 days in Lexington, Allen was transferred to Kindred Healthcare where he would begin rehab with a trach and on dialysis. He finally returned to Baptist Health Acute Rehab, where he has completed his final steps toward recovery over the last ten days. 

According to Dillon, Allen is the first patient diagnosed with COVID-19 at Baptist Health Louisville who received the ECMO treatment and the first for whom it was successful. ECMO is not an option for all patients, as some are more ideal candidates than others due to age and other conditions. 

Today, the wait was over, as family and friends showed up in force outside Baptist Health Louisville, wearing bright green shirts – green for compassion – bearing the slogan bearing the name Allen and just below it, “WE’RE ALLEN THIS TOGETHER.”

Chris and Gina expressed thanks to the many healthcare providers at Baptist Health Louisville, Kindred Healthcare, and UK HealthCare that made the recovery possible. Gina said, “He has had the most amazing doctors, nurses and staff along the way…we have been tremendously blessed. The people here are so knowledgeable and care so much about him. They are the people who have gotten him through this – along with friends and family and the power of prayer.”

Dillon credits all the staff and health care partners involved in Allen’s recovery, stating that they are all part of one big team where it takes everyone to make a difference.

Dillon was just as happy that Allen got to go home, “I never heard Chris’ voice until Monday. It was pretty great to hear him and be able to talk to him and still take care of him, and know that he’s going to make it. We are all pretty excited about Chris. He has a long road, but he’s going to make it. He’s going to be fine."

The family gives a great deal of credit in the recovery process to an overwhelming show of support by family and friends who made regular trips to Lexington to support them and have been there for the entire difficult situation. “Amazing” was the word Gina used repeatedly to describe the outpouring of love and support.

As Chris Allen prepared to get inside the vehicle that would take him to the comfort of his own home that he hadn’t seen in weeks, he left behind some advice to others – to keep a positive attitude. 

“The virus is real. I’ve never had a negative attitude ever. I think that pulled me through a lot. I said a lot of prayers and people around me were very positive. You can beat this thing, you just have to keep fighting – and here I am.” 

Gina added, “You can’t take life for granted. Tell everyone every day how much you love them.”

Gina said that she had also suffered with COVID-19 at home. She stated that she and her husband would like to donate plasma to help others in the future.

Today, Allen left the hospital under picture-perfect sunny skies – the kind of day that makes a person thankful to be alive. He went home to a yard filled with yards signs of support – and an empty back porch just waiting for him.

Gina thinks he probably won’t want to leave home for a while after having been away so long. “He needs sunshine and fresh air and friends and family.”  Along with a change of scenery, he’s also ready for a change of cuisine. “He wants a bratwurst on the grill tonight. I think I am going to let him have that.”

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