Wayne Walker is glad to be home after spending eight-and-a-half weeks in the hospital.
One of the best days of Wayne Walker's life was when he was wheeled out of AdventHealth Daytona Beach on Friday, May 15, after he survived COVID-19.
"That was the first time in eight-and-a-half weeks that I had taken a fresh breath of air or seen the sunshine," he said. "It was just so amazing.”
Walker, a 62-year-old Ormond Beach resident, never had any health problems before he contracted the virus. He led an active lifestyle — he went to the gym a couple times a week, played golf, walked his dog every morning for about a mile and regularly rode his bike on the beach alongside his wife.
Then, in the middle of March, a few days after he had attended the first weekend of Bike Week, he started developing flu-like symptoms. He felt achy and tired, and at one point developed a 103-degree fever. After he began having a hard time breathing, his wife Julie Cowne brought him to AdventHealth Daytona Beach's emergency room on St. Patrick's Day, March 17.
Cowne recalls that the staff at AdventHealth taped something outside of Walker's ER room door. When nurses came in the room, they were wearing personal protective equipment.
Lindsay Cashio, spokesperson for AdventHealh Daytona Beach, said in an email that Walker was admitted the following day to the intensive care unit with sepsis and pneumonia. He had also tested positive for COVID-19 and was going to be medically induced into a coma.
“And that’s pretty much the last thing I remember until I woke up three weeks later," Walker said.
Walker was on a ventilator for 22 days, six of which he spent in a RotoProne bed, a bed that allows patients to lie down in a face-down position. Walker also had to undergo dialysis, as his kidneys were failing.
During that time, all his wife and family could do was wait and hope he could fight off COVID-19.
On March 25, the medical staff called Cowne to tell her to come to the hospital. They allowed her five minutes to say goodbye to her husband through a window. Then on April 3, the staff called again and allowed her and their kids to say goodbye to him on the phone. They spoke to him for over two hours and implored him to keep fighting.
These were the "worst phone calls" of her life, Cowne said.
Eventually, Walker was taken off he ventilator, but he was still unresponsive. AdventHealth staff had propped up his phone in a manner where his family could see him through live video 24/7, and on Easter morning, she heard him call for her. Walker had moved the phone as well.
“So our joke is not just Jesus rose on Easter Sunday," Cowne said. "So did Wayne.”
He was transferred to the hospital's Medical Progressive Care Unit on April 14, where he would spend another three weeks. That took a toll on him emotionally and physically, Walker. He felt lonely and his COVID-19 tests kept coming back positive. He couldn't be with his family until he got negative results.
It took about 11 COVID-19 tests until Walker finally tested negative and staff was able to say he beat the virus. That occurred officially on May 1, over six weeks since he was admitted into the hospital.
From there, he was moved to inpatient rehab care. Through his battle with COVID-19, Walker had lost 48 pounds, and developed issues with endurance, balance and mobility.
Though they can't pinpoint exactly where Walker contracted COVID-19, it's likely it occurred during Bike Week. Several of their friends who were with them at that time also got sick.
No one got it as bad as Wayne did.
A parade of surprises
On Sunday, May 17, Cowne was treated to a welcome surprise. His friends, family and first responders all threw a honk parade in his honor. He had no idea that's what his wife had planned. Cowne called her friend Charlene Greer, the executive director for Jeep Beach, who put the parade together.
But, he's looking forward to getting back to normal physically. Being home, he said, has been a dream. His wife agrees. Their fourth anniversary fell on April 2 while Walker was still in the hospital.
“It’s amazing," she said. "It’s wonderful. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel real, because we thought this day would never come.”