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Long Hauler Recovers: COVID-19 Patient Goes Home After 158 Days In Denver Hospital

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) - After 158 days in the hospital, Nate McWilliams is headed home after being one of the longest patients treated for COVID-19.

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"If I'd probably got the shot, I might have been in a little less of a situation than I was in today," McWilliams said before he left Swedish Hospital on Thursday. "You have to fight. Anybody out there, if you get sick, don't doubt yourself. Stay positive."

It was June 26 when McWilliams' wife, Brenda Bailey, noticed he was having trouble breathing -- and took him to the hospital.

"We began this standard treatment of placing him on life support with a mechanical ventilator and placing him on his stomach to improve his oxygen levels," said Dr. Mary Laird Warner a Pulmonary Critical Care Specialist at Swedish Medical Center.

McWilliams was given steroids, antivirals, and anti-inflammatories right away.

"There was plenty of times I didn't think he was going to make it," Bailey said.

"I always told myself, as long as we have no other elements go wrong, if his kidneys stay good, his heart stays good, and there's no signs of cognitive functions to where he's in a vegetative state, I said, 'We have to keep going no matter what it takes,'" Bailey said.

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On July 11, McWilliams was placed on an ECMO machine, which he would stay on for 91 days.

"It's essentially a heart, lung bypass machine," said Dr. Warner. "[It[ take all the blood out of the body, puts it through an oxygenator blender and back into the heart, to circulate it to the body."

"We only do this when we have exhausted all other methods of salvaging the patient. It is only available to a limited number of patients, early in the infection."

Eventually, McWilliams improved enough to be taken off the ECMO machine and a ventilator. He's been in rehabilitation in the hospital for the past month.

"This is unbelievable. I feel good. It's a beautiful day to be going home," McWilliams said as he was leaving. "It's very important to get that shot."

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"This entire experience could be avoided with one vaccine that is free and widely available," said Dr. Warner.

Bailey got a vaccine as soon as she could, after overcoming her own case of COVID at home. She spent the past five months encouraging friends and family to get the vaccine, as well, as she updated people on McWilliams' condition.

"Don't wait until you get sick," Bailey said. "I don't think we would have spent the last five and a half months in the hospital if he would have had the shot, even one dose of the vaccine."

Hospital staff lined up to cheer McWilliams as he left the hospital. Despite his unvaccinated status, saving a life, after months of effort, has a way of boosting moral for doctors and nurses.

"To see a patient wheel or walk out the front door after three months, four months, is incredible -- it's a big celebration for the whole staff," said Dr. Warner.

McWilliams says he excited to cook ribs and spend time with family now that he's home and has a second lease on life.

"I get a chance to see my mom again," he said.

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