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Post by Donna Cope from Alabama NewsCenter
Josh Latham knows what it is like to be on the brink of death, after coming back from 33 days on a ventilator.
After battling COVID-19, Latham is happy to be alive. “Before all this, I had thought I was invincible,” the strapping 6 ft.-4 in. Latham admitted. At 41, he was rarely sick and seemed in fairly good health, despite having Type 2 diabetes and carrying extra weight.
Diagnosed with COVID-19 by his primary care doctor on July 27, Latham had difficulty breathing and was treated at St. Vincent’s East Hospital in Birmingham. He was put on oxygen at home. But his condition quickly worsened: When Latham awoke at his parents’ home on July 30, he was out of breath after walking to another room.
“I couldn’t get my oxygen above 45,” he said, noting that normal oxygen levels range from 90 to 100. His parents called 911 and within 3 minutes an ambulance arrived. Paramedics carried Latham to the ambulance and worked to stabilize his oxygen levels during transport.
Arriving at the emergency room, Latham knew he was in danger. Unable to breathe, his blood sugar soared to 500 and he was put on insulin.
Early in the pandemic, whenever Latham heard people discussing COVID-19, he put thoughts about the illness aside.
“I pretty much stayed away from everybody so I wouldn’t have to wear a mask,” he said. “The majority of the time, I never wore a mask, which I highly regret now.”
He encourages everyone he knows to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I wish that I’d been fully vaccinated, because I probably wouldn’t have gotten as bad as I got,” Latham said. “You could get it and you might have minor symptoms, or you could be put on a ventilator and might not ever come back. You’re playing Russian roulette with your life if you don’t get vaccinated.”
Fighting for his life
Latham got extremely sick so quickly that he didn’t have time to plan. There was no time to share banking information with his parents, for example.
Latham has no idea where he contracted COVID-19, but the delta variant was prevalent in Jacksonville, Alabama, where he visited a friend in July. Latham received his first Moderna shot about a week before he became desperately ill.
“I don’t remember 90 percent of the stuff that happened to me,” Latham said. “I just know what I was told.
“When I got in the ER, they put me on a CPAP machine before I was put on a vent,” he said. Even while struggling to breathe, Latham had the presence of mind to take three photos of himself on his cell phone.
The illness progressed quickly. As his breathing worsened, Latham on July 31 was moved to the ICU in critical condition. The next day, doctors put him on a ventilator. On Aug. 3 his kidneys failed and he went on dialysis.
“My kidneys fully shut down,” Latham said. “At one point, I was bleeding from the inside, so they had to give me lot of blood because they didn’t know where the bleeding was coming from, which was actually an ulcer. I got about 12 units of blood. Eventually they found it. Yeah, I was doing bad.”
Because he was in the COVID area of ICU, visitors were not allowed. The situation was difficult for his children, Kallie, 14, and Kaden, 10, and other family members.
“My parents would just drive in from Odenville and sit in the parking lot,” Latham said. The couple made the 45-minute trip to feel close to their son. The timing was even harder on his mother, Jane Latham, because her own mother – in the end stages of dementia – also was being cared for at St. Vincent’s East.
After what seemed like one medical emergency after another, Latham’s left lung collapsed on Aug. 10, forcing doctors to install a chest tube.
“They didn’t have time to contact family, they just did the procedure,” Latham said. “I have a scar on my left side where they fixed it.” The next day, doctors performed a tracheotomy to allow direct access to a breathing tube.
Friends and family kept up with Latham’s progress on Facebook. On the evening of Saturday, Aug. 14, about 45 friends and family members met at the hospital to pray for Latham. Pastor Steve Sullivan of Oak Grove Church in Springville led the group in prayer.
“I felt every prayer,” Latham said. “I promise everybody I felt uplifted. I’m living proof that prayer works.”
A slow return to normal
By Aug. 30, Latham was in a slow recovery, as his kidneys showed increased function. About three days later, his pulmonologist said Latham no longer needed a ventilator, though he was being treated for a recurring fever.
“The pulmonologist told us that it is common for COVID patients to run fevers for no apparent reason,” Latham said.
By Sept. 5, Latham had progressed so much that his nurses were calling him “the miracle patient.” For Latham, it truly was heaven-sent when his doctors released him so he could begin rehab on Sept. 14. That was the first day that his children were able to see him since he’d entered the hospital.
Rehab is helping Latham to build strength and get on his feet. His stamina and endurance have grown with the use of a walker, and occupational therapists are helping him regain movement. At the same time, a wound-care team has treated the pressure wounds on Latham’s face, the back of his head and body – his battle scars from lying in the hospital bed.
“I had to learn to walk again, to bathe, to brush my teeth, to eat,” Latham said. “It’s been a long process, basically having to learn everything all over again, after getting sick. … I’m walking on a walker, which is very slow, and if I have to go far places, I get in a wheelchair to move around.
“I’m slowly getting better,” he added. “I have a left “drop” wrist and a right “drop” foot from lying in bed as long as I was, and my left eye is kind of droopy. I’ve finally started moving my big toe on my right foot and the muscle, and I’m starting to feel some pain in the foot. I have pain from nerves that are re-energizing.”
Doctors feared that Latham may have had a stroke, but CAT scans didn’t detect an injury. Latham was released from in-patient care on Oct. 4.
Grateful for another chance
Considering all that he endured, Latham calls himself “one of the lucky ones” – he is fortunate to have survived COVID-19.
“There’s a higher power that wants me here longer,” Latham said, with a chuckle.
He is grateful for the support of family and friends. “I’ve been divorced for eight years, but my ex-wife was at the hospital a lot,” he said. “I’m very thankful for her. She told me, ‘Don’t you ever do that again!’”
Latham’s kidneys returned to full function and his oxygen levels are normal, though his heart rate is higher than normal. One previous condition improved: Latham is no longer diabetic. His last A1C reading was normal, meaning that he no longer needs diabetes medicine.
“I lost over 100 pounds,” added Latham, who returned home to Springville on Oct. 16 and is continuing with rehab. “I lost all my muscle, which is what’s causing me the problems with walking because I can’t stand up long. My leg muscles are slowly building back.”
He’s thrilled to be recovering: “I just want to be stronger. I do not want to go in the hospital ever again, if possible.”
For one whose life hung in the balance, Latham sees each day as a new chance at life.
“Don’t take life for granted,” Latham said. “When I was in the hospital, when I finally had my taste test, the first thing I wanted was a glass of water. Just the little things we take for granted, like a shower. The first time I got a shower, when I got to rehab, that first shower was wonderful. We take these things for granted. But just to have those – I didn’t think this was ever going to happen to me, but it did. You just don’t know.”
A former Springville Youth Soccer Board member and longtime coach, Latham said that many parents got vaccinated when they learned about his illness. He hopes to return to coaching when the season starts in February.
“I’m planning on getting back out there coaching again,” Latham said. “Even if I have to walk with a cane, I’m still going to get out there and coach.”
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