John Butler was given a 3 percent chance to survive COVID-19 – but thanks to family, faith and expert medical care, he is back to the life he loves.
John and his wife Tracey recently returned to Regional One Health to thank the team at the Extended Care Hospital for the lifesaving treatment they provided.
Thanks to around-the-clock care and expert rehabilitation, John is back home, returning to the tennis court, and enjoying time with family – including a new grandbaby!
As John Butler watched his son teach his daughter-in-law to play tennis, a game John has loved his whole life, he grabbed a racquet, walked on the court, and offered to help.
It may sound like an ordinary moment, but it’s actually much more. It’s an inspiring example of overcoming long odds through hard work, faith, and exceptional medical care.
After getting COVID-19 last July, John was given a 3% chance to survive. He spent 110 days in the hospital; 47 on a ventilator. When he woke up, he could only move his toes.
But John and his wife Tracey say he woke up exactly where he needed to be: the Regional One Health Extended Care Hospital, where highly skilled doctors, nurses and therapists poured their hearts into helping John heal and regain strength. “He’s a walking miracle. He’s not supposed to be here, but God had other plans,” Tracey said. “God put him exactly where he needed to be.”
John, a delivery driver, and Tracey, a teacher, were otherwise healthy when they tested positive for COVID in July 2021. They loved playing tennis together and spending time with family.
After getting their positive tests, they went for an infusion. Tracey finished first, and as she waited for John, a nurse stopped her and told her John’s blood oxygen level was dangerously low. Tracey was given two choices: call for an ambulance or drive him to the hospital.
They opted to drive to a hospital near their home in Nesbit, Mississippi, and John’s condition deteriorated rapidly. He was transferred to the ICU and put on a ventilator, and a few days later his doctor told Tracey John had just a 3 percent chance of ever getting off the ventilator.
Tracey gathered herself enough to drive home and call her sons.
Then, she started to pray.
She refused to give up on her husband, and she asked God to do the same. She started making phone calls. “I was asking, ‘Is there anywhere we can go? Is there anyone who can help him?’” Tracey recalls. “That’s when they put me in touch with Regional One Health.”
Cindy Savage, lead clinical liaison, told Tracey the Extended Care Hospital cares for seriously ill, complex patients and has a 97% success rate of getting patients off ventilators.
It was a stark contrast to the 3% figure Tracey had been told. “Cindy told me, ‘I believe we can help him,’ and for the first time, I felt hope. I needed someone to believe with me. It was such a dark time, but at that moment I felt hope.”
John arrived at the Extended Care Hospital on a Wednesday evening. “They gave him one day to rest, and then they hit the ground running to get him off that thing,” Tracey said.
John’s care was overseen by Dr. Ibrahim Sultan-Ali, Extended Care Hospital chief medical officer. He monitored John closely to make sure he was responding to medication and that his lungs were not developing secondary infections.
When John finally woke up, he knew he had a fight ahead of him.
“I couldn’t move my arms or legs, and I remember thinking two things,” he said. “I wanted to see my family and I wanted to know if I’d ever go back to hitting tennis balls.”
Rehabilitation therapists got him working toward those goals right away. “I had tubes coming in and out of my body, but they were still able to do their thing,” John said. “It was amazing to me. It wasn’t easy, but I look back on it, and I’m so glad they were as tough as they were.”
Meanwhile, respiratory therapists like David Tate started the process of getting John off the ventilator. Tate has 30 years in respiratory therapy but had worked in medical sales for the 10 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’d returned to the bedside after hearing about the dire need for respiratory therapists, initially signing a 12-week contract.
“That was February of 2021, and I’m still here,” he said, noting patients like John kept him going. “I saw the difference we were making. He was always in good spirits, and he had faith in us. We told him, ‘You’re going to have good days and bad days, but don’t give up.’”
It wasn’t easy, but John and Tracey felt supported at every step. John’s nurses became like a second family in a time of COVID visitor restrictions. They held his phone so he could talk to his loved ones. They kept Tracey updated about every development.
“I loved all of my nurses – and I went through the whole rotation! I was here long enough that I got to know everyone. People here are concerned for you. They care for you,” John said. “I don’t think they realize how important they are. I respect the doctors and nurses so much.”
Two weeks after arriving at the Extended Care Hospital, John took his first breaths without the ventilator. And for the first time in months, Tracey too could breathe a little easier, realizing her prayers were being answered. Her husband was going to come back home.
Since then, John and Tracey have been appreciating the little things: Morning games of tennis. Date nights to see the new Top Gun movie. Hamburgers grilled by their son on Father’s Day.
They’re also enjoying life’s big moments. Their first grandchild, a little girl, was born in August.
For John, it is all reason for gratitude, and to fully embrace the second chance he’s been given. “I’m glad to be alive. That’s the main thing,” he said. “I don’t know how long it will take to get back to normal, but you just have to keep on going. I want to continue to experience life.”