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Man reunites with health workers who saved his life from severe COVID-19 case

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    ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — Brian Holmes spent months in the hospital after getting diagnosed with COVID-19 on December 14. His case was so severe, doctors said he needed a double lung transplant to survive.

“On Christmas Eve I begged and begged and said you’re going to the hospital,” said his wife Kathie Holmes.

Brian Holmes was at SLU Hospital’s ICU for two months on a ventilator and ECMO — life support. His wife said he would take three steps forward and two steps back.

“His chance for survival without ECMO was almost zero,” said Dr. Elsayed Abo-Salem, director of SLU’s ECMO program.

Abo-Salem said after nearly 53 days on ECMO, Brian Holmes’ lungs were still not recovering well enough and needed more support. At one point, Kathie Holmes said there was hope for improvement on his own.

“He was almost able to be weened from the ventilator and then he got pneumonia from being on the ventilator,” Kathie Holmes said.

In late February, he was airlifted to Cleveland Clinic in Ohio in need of a double lung transplant. “There was no facility in this area that was doing transplants for COVID,” said Lisa Erlinger, the RN case manager for SLU’s ICU.

On April 6, thanks to a donor, Brian received two new lungs. “Of course I was scared but once it was set in, I knew it was live on a ventilator or get a lung transplant,” Brian Holmes said.

Doctors said his case of COVID was one of the most severe, referring to it as COVID ARDS or COVID fibrosis.

“There have been over 100 transplants now that have been done for COVID ARDS or COVID fibrosis worldwide,” said Dr. Marie Budev with the Cleveland Clinic.

After surgery, Brian Holmes began physical therapy to relearn how to walk and strengthen his new lungs. He is now able to walk on his own and returned home to St. Louis last week. “I have good days and I have bad days … take a lot of medications and they wreak havoc on your stomach,” he said.

He’s lost about 60 pounds, but by the grace of God, he’s still here. “Every day I wake up grateful just that we made it through this journey and then the fact that we’re here because another person made such a decision to be a donor and save other people’s lives,” Kathie Holmes said.

“It’s made me change my life and how I act toward people and changed a lot of things,” Brian Holmes said. He plans to continue physical therapy on his own and said he expects to have to take medication for the rest of his life.

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