'This is nothing to play with': Wake County man recovering after 4 months in the hospital with COVID-19

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Martin Taylor first started showing COVID-19 symptoms in early July, his family thought he would quickly overcome the illness - but that wasn't the case.

The Wake County resident was healthy and wore a mask but soon after testing positive for the virus he quickly experienced shortness of breath and could barely walk.

"It got to the point where he was on a lot of sedation medication then at the point, he was getting worse and worse by the day," his wife Eugenia Taylor remembered.

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Eugenia said Martin received oxygen, remdesivir and plasma, but his condition continued to decline. One of his doctors at Duke Health, Dr. Craig Rackley said Martin had bleeding, infections and almost required a lung transplant.

"I got a phone call late that night and the doctor called me late that night and told me, 'Your husband, you know he's not going to make it through the night if we don't put him on ECMO , ECMO life support," Eugenia Taylor said. "I told them, you all do what you have to do to save my husband."

ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is an advanced form of life support that pumps blood from a patient's body into an artificial lung. It's often reserved for the sickest COVID-19 patients who need more than a ventilator. Rackley said only 23 of the 2,000 COVID-19 patients Duke has admitted has needed ECMO.

"For 69 days he had his blood leaving his body and going through an artificial lung to keep him alive," Rackley said. "He is the longest survivor who has required ECMO for lung failure and did not need a transplant."

One of his other doctor's Dr. Lingye Chen explained COVID-19 is a prolonged disease for patients. Most ICU patients stay on a ventilator for around 10 days - in Martin's case far longer. Chen said the longer patients are on ventilators the more of a chance they have of catching pneumonia and other side effects like bleeding and clotting.

As Martin battled the virus inside the hospital, restrictions kept most of his family out.

"Depression, anxiety, just a lot of feelings of helplessness; I guess you could say because you couldn't go see him for a while, his wife couldn't go see him sometimes," his brother John Taylor said describing what felt like a roller coaster of emotions.

Despite Martin's unique case and the extremity of his illness, he was able to overcome it all and is on the path to return home.

The Taylors are continuing to have faith in Martin's full recovery and asking for donations to aid with his ongoing medical expenses, click here if you're willing to aid in the family's GoFundMe.

"I just want people to know that there is still hope in this they just have to believe every day and not give up and it's not easy. I just had to fight the good fight of faith every day," Eugenia Taylor said.

That message of hope already hitting home with his medical team at Duke.

"I would say one of the most uplifting days of my career involved him," Rackley said.

He explained after three months of Martin being unconscious in the ICU, Duke health care workers and the Taylors surprised Martin with an outdoor visit from his two children.

"I think you could feel the positivity in the ICU that day. I think everyone was walking on air. He came back smiling from ear to ear. It was a step that brought him out of a depression and into an incredibly positive mood that continued to carry forward," Rackley said.

Chen called Martin inspiring.

"We've seen a lot of people die, very, very lonely deaths in the hospital because you can't have your families visit you and to kind of remember cases like his where he was critically ill for so long and his outcome was so uncertain for so long to see him walk out of the hospital after that, we have to remember cases like that to keep us going," Chen said.


The Taylors credit Martin's medical team at Duke and WakeMed with why he's here today.

Martin has started rehab and is hoping to be home by Thanksgiving, but doesn't want others to forget his battle.

"This is nothing to play with," Martin Taylor said. "I was healthy, doing good, and when it hit me, it just knocked me down so people really need to take heed of it."

Martin's doctors also pleaded for North Carolinians to take the virus seriously.

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COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Carolina hit a new record on Wednesday with more than 1,500 patients hospitalized.

"It is absolutely frustrating. It's discouraging," Chen said of the rising numbers. "We want to really, really plead with the public to be as mindful as possible and just think about all the people who are working in health care, but not just health care but other essential jobs where they have to be out facing the public. Their actions have consequences."

In the last two months, the percent of white patients has increased while Latino and Black patients have decreased. Despite the changes, Black patients are overrepresented in the North Carolina hospitals while white patients are underrepresented.

The age of hospitalized patients continues to trend towards older individuals with 78% of patients reportedly older than 50.

"COVID-19 is real. There's no doubt about it. Ask anyone who has worked in the Duke ICU or any ICU in this hospital. We can all share personal stories just like Mr. Martin's and any other cases. This is a bad disease, it's a prevalent disease and we have to take it seriously," Chen urged.
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