Kevin Jackson recognizes how lucky he is to be alive.
The 63-year-old Washington Township resident contracted COVID-19 in the beginning of April. He was put into a medically induced coma and spent five weeks in the intensive care unit of Jefferson Washington Township Hospital on a ventilator.
According to a study done on COVID-19 patients in New York’s Northwell Health System in March and early April, 76.4 percent of those ages 18 to 65 who were placed on a ventilator died at the hospital and 97.2 percent of patients on ventilators ages 65 or older passed away. Jackson also had a cousin who died around that same time from the virus.
Jackson’s wife, Melissa, knew the odds weren’t good.
“It’s a miracle, really, that Kevin was able to survive,” she said.
Today, Jackson is not only alive but has made it back home to continue his recovery. After weeks of not being able to speak, walk or perform other basic life activities, he can talk again and is going through occupational and physical therapy multiple times per week.
Jackson believes he was able to survive thanks to plenty of prayers; support from local community members and his family; and, most of all, the hard work of doctors and nurses who took care of him along the way.
The Jackson family credits the Jefferson staff for attending to Kevin’s every need during his month-plus stay and for making crucial, lifesaving decisions. More than a month after returning home, Kevin contacted The Sun so he could share his story, warn others about the dangers of COVID-19 and express his gratitude to the staff at Jefferson for everything they did to take care of him.
“They were very accommodating,” he said. “Once they saw there was a chance I was going to make it, they rallied around me.”
Jackson woke up feeling ill on April 1, a surprise considering he felt completely fine the day prior. A dialysis patient, he had an appointment later that day and decided to rest up in the hope he would feel better later.
When he arrived at the dialysis center, staff took Jackson’s temperature and were alarmed when it revealed he had a 103-degree fever.
“The ambulance came and took me to (Jefferson),” he recalled. “When I got there, I lost consciousness.”
Jackson’s COVID-19 test came back positive on April 3. By this point, he was in a medically induced coma in the Jefferson ICU and hooked up to a ventilator, feeding tube and trach tube.
“When we first went in, they knew very little,” he noted. “Most people that were in the condition I was in did not make it. They were asking my wife whether she was sure they wanted to put my body through everything it was going to go through.”
Melissa recalls how communicative Jefferson’s doctors and nurses were throughout the process, adding that the doctors had to make a lot of tough decisions and were constantly in touch with her regarding Kevin’s care.
“Every single day, the doctors would call to give you an update,” Melissa recalled. “When they had to put him on a ventilator, when they had to put a trach in, they would call.”
Due to COVID restrictions, none of Jackson’s family could be with him at the hospital. That left the staff to take over as his temporary family.
The staff’s care went well beyond medicine. Upon his family’s request, staff would set up Jackson’s phone to play gospel music for him. Later in his stay, staff members helped Jackson use FaceTime to see his family and even provided him with a letterboard to communicate since he still had a trach and was unable to speak.
“That’s extra and above and beyond their job, because they’re caring for (other) patients,” Melissa noted.
“I was thankful for the nurses because I felt the nurses were coming to work every day knowing they could also be infected by COVID,” she later added.
“It’s humbling that so many people cared about me and didn’t know me,” Kevin remarked.
Jackson is thankful for all of the care he received as well as the prayers he got from hundreds of people up and down the East Coast. His name was put on the prayer list of about 20 churches. Jackson’s brother is an elder for a church in Virginia and was able to spread the word about his sibling’s need for prayers to other ministers all over the region.
“I was part of a prayer line that went from Florida to New York,” Jackson said. “When it didn’t look good, they prayed for me. That had a lot to do with it. The care, coupled with the prayers, made the difference.”
A little more than a month after arriving at Jefferson, Jackson was transferred to Select Specialty Hospital in Wilmington, a facility specializing in assisting patients who are coming off a ventilator. He was at the hospital until May 21, when he was transferred to Lourdes Rehabilitation Center.
“When I left (Select Specialty), they all clapped,” Jackson said about the staff. “They all clapped because they were happy that I made it out.”
At Lourdes, Jackson had to show he was able to transfer himself in and out of a wheelchair and walk 20 steps with a walker before he could be sent home. After about a week, he was discharged on May 28 to continue his recovery at home.
“I have physical therapy; they come twice a week and occupational therapy comes once a week,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to strengthen myself because when I got home, I couldn’t walk.”
In late June, Jackson had to return to Jefferson after experiencing back pain. He was diagnosed with an infection connected to his COVID-19, was given antibiotics and was able to return home the first week of July.
While Jackson didn’t want to return to the hospital, his spirits were lifted as numerous staff members, recognizing him from his April stay, greeted him with open arms.
“People were coming up to me, saying, ‘You’re a miracle,’” he recalled. “It’s definitely heartwarming. These people, as soon as they heard my name, they lit up. In some kind of way, I’m a victory for them.
“I want them to know how important their day-to-day activities are when it comes to people who are in their care,” Jackson later added. “The little things as well as the big things. It’s amazing how far those things go.
“It’s amazing how a smile, a kind word, a cool drink of water and the things that they did for me really helped me.”
Jackson’s story is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of COVID-19, even after returning home. After weighing 340 pounds prior to his hospital stay, Jackson has lost 70 pounds over the past three months. He is now relearning how to walk and recognizes more effects from the virus may crop up as time goes on.
“It doesn’t just let you go,” he noted. “It’s so strange that I had a back infection. My back had nothing to do with anything. It’s just the nature of the beast.”
Dismayed at people not taking COVID-19 seriously, Melissa hopes her husband’s story shines a light on how serious the illness can be. She recently posted a poem on her Facebook profile detailing exactly what her experience has been like.
“These last three months have been the most heart wrenching and horrendous of my entire life,” Melissa wrote. “There is nothing like pleading with your loved one to fervently do his breathing exercises to avoid the ventilator and its dismal outcomes.
“There is nothing like not knowing if you will ever see your loved one again!
“There is nothing like not being there physically by your loved ones side as they fight for their life alone,” she added. “Your only contact is the daily phone call updates.
“I will just warn everyone to take all precautions,” Melissa concluded. “If not for yourself, do it for the people you love and all of the medical staff who put their lives on the line daily to treat COVID patients.”
“One day I was fine, the next day I didn’t even know I was in the world,” Kevin said. “(COVID-19) is real and it’s serious.”