For Fort Worth resident Bryan Ayala, COVID-19 struck quickly and hit hard.
At the beginning of May, he was more concerned about the fact that he’d been laid off from his job than he was about catching the virus that was sweeping the globe. In those days, it was thought that COVID was something only people over 60 or with pre-existing health conditions had to worry about and Bryan, 21, had none.
One day, without warning, he noticed he couldn’t take a deep breath.
“I didn’t feel that bad,” Ayala said. “I just felt a little uncomfortable at first. It got worse and worse over the next two days. So, I went to JPS just to get checked out. I really didn’t think it was that bad.”
He wouldn’t leave the hospital for nearly two months.
“I remember going there in May, but I don’t really remember anything after that until I woke up on the Fourth of July,” Bryan recalled. “I was in a coma for most of the time I was in the hospital.”
While Bryan doesn’t recall much of his battle against the virus, his mother can’t forget every excruciating moment she spent wondering if her son would survive.
“Things would change daily,” Erica Ayala said. “One day it would seem like he was doing pretty good, then the next, everything would go wrong.”
For some COVID-19 patients, a blood plasma transfer is a transformational treatment, but not for Bryan. Anti-viral medication Remdesivir didn’t help, either. Eventually the ventilator that was keeping the young man alive was starting to do more damage than good, causing internal bleeding after extended use. Erica said she feared doctors were running out of options.
“I was afraid they were going to tell me there was nothing else they could do,” Erica said of JPS physicians, nurses and therapists. “But they never did because there are nothing but heroes who work there.”
Critical Care RN Meriane Mayhew shared Erica’s heartache, watching with disappointment as the few tools caregivers had at their disposal to fight COVID-19 failed to make Bryan Better.
“None of them worked,” Mayhew said. “None. All I can say is that we never gave up on him and he never gave up on us. I remember one day he started to wake up. He was crying, trying to figure out where he was. He looked up at me and I said ‘You definitely have a guardian angel because you are truly a miracle.’”
When he emerged from his coma, things weren’t instantly better for Bryan. He was so weak that he not only couldn’t walk or sit up on his own, he couldn’t even roll over in bed without assistance. He had to learn to walk, talk and feed himself all over again. Nearly nine months after he became ill, following a two-month-long hospital stay and an extended period in a rehab facility, he’s finally nearly back to his old self.
“That he is back to walking and talking again is so incredible,” Mayhew said. “These patients come in and you’re having a conversation one day and then the next they’re on the ventilator. It’s so heartbreaking. Too many of them don’t make it."