'We call him the miracle man': 69-year-old veteran shares his story of survival after testing positive for COVID-19

Published: Apr. 13, 2020 at 11:41 PM MDT
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A veteran in our community has a story of survival to tell. He tested positive for COVID-19, went on a ventilator, and now he has beaten the odds.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Davis spent his 69th birthday in the hospital with COVID-19. He says he was critically ill, but faith and family got him through.

“I didn’t know the worst of the worst," Davis said. “I’m still putting some of the puzzle together as it’s been given to me.”

The father of five started feeling symptoms four weeks ago. His family says his condition worsened and he ended up in the hospital on March 20.

"They took him in immediately," said son Kevin Davis. "They saw that something was wrong and he needed to get checked like ASAP.”

The Davis family says he was declining daily. He could barely talk and barely breathe. They say his doctors had him on oxygen, but not a ventilator yet.

Many families are watching this pandemic unfold. The Davises are living it. They say they had to make very serious decisions as time kept passing. Every conversation with the medical team was done over the phone. At times. they say a chaplain was on the line.

"That shows you just how serious this was," said daughter Katrina Davis-Willis.

They could not visit Davis because of hospital policy changes during the COVID-19 crisis.

"That was the worst part," said Kevin Davis. “We couldn’t be there. We couldn’t be next to him. We couldn’t tell him, 'Hey dad, we’re here.' He couldn’t see our faces.”

"It was a roller coaster ride," said Davis-Willis. "They couldn’t get his temperature under control. You know, vital signs, blood pressure. It’s a roller coaster ride.”

Davis-Willis tells 11 News one of the most alarming moments for her family was when she called one day for a status update from his medical team, and they informed her that her father was on the do-not-resuscitate list, or DNR list.

“The physician told us we had 20 minutes to reach out to our father, and I hung up the phone and had a discussion on what would be next.," Davis-Willis said.

The Davises say over a week had gone by with their father in the hospital. His condition kept worsening and there was so much unknown ahead.

“It’s such an emotional thing for everyone, including the patients, because they can’t breathe. They don’t see anything working. They just want to give up," said Kevin Davis.

My father was exhausted," Davis-Willis added. "He’s in this room. He can’t see any of his family. They’ve run test after test after test. They have poked. They have prodded. And, he’s exhausted.”

The Davis family was able to convince their father to get off the DNR list. They believe it was critical decision for his care. Shortly after, he was transferred to Memorial Hospital Central, where they say his doctors put him on a ventilator. The retired sergeant major says much of his time there is a blur.

“I didn’t know when they put me on it and I didn’t know when they took me off," Davis said. “Between those days I was between here and heaven. That’s the only thing I can say.”

His son tells 11 News his father's doctors shared statistics with the family about his chances for recovery, but each case is different and there is so much unknown with this virus.

“They gave us some pretty bad statistics," said Kevin Davis. "You hear ventilator and it's almost like a death sentence."

The Davis family says Sgt. Maj. Davis has some pre-existing conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. He's also in his late 60s.

"I was just ticking off the list of everything they say makes this thing worse," said Kevin Davis.

Davis remained sedated on the ventilator for days. His family says they fought for him and prayed for his recovery. They say their father remained critically ill, but stable. There was no change in his condition, but they believed no news was good news at that point.

"Our anxiety went through the roof. We couldn’t sleep at night, because we didn’t know what would happen. We didn’t know what they were going to say.," said Davis-Willis.

The Davis family say Sgt. Maj. Davis finally came off the ventilator on April 6. He's in recovery now. It's a slow process. The father of five was weak and lost 30 pounds. His voice is still raspy from the ventilator. He's staying at a rehab facility, but he has not been able to physically see his family since he was first admitted to the hospital on March 20.

“When I look at the El Paso County statistics and the fatalities, I say I am among the small numbers," said Sgt. Maj. Davis.

Currently, state and county health departments are not reporting hospital discharge numbers, so it's difficult to get any data regarding COVID-19 recovery in our state. However, a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked data for 24 critically ill COVID-19 patients in Seattle. Twelve patients died, four of which had a do-not-resuscitate order in place. Three of the patients who survived remained on ventilators in the ICU.

Sgt. Maj. Davis credits faith and family for his recovery.

“The secret is God," said Davis. “I hope others will be able to take this and do something positive with it because that is what it is all about.”