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Granite Shoals resident cherishes second lease on life after severe COVID

Preston Williams with Baylor Scott and White staff

Granite Shoals resident Preston Williams, 61, with two of the medical crew at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Marble Falls who helped him fight COVID-19 in December 2020 and the following January. Courtesy photo

Illness wasn’t typically part of 61-year-old Preston Williams’ normally healthy life, but in December 2020, he was diagnosed with both pneumonia and COVID-19 and faced being put on a ventilator to help him breathe. 

“I knew if I went on a ventilator, I wasn’t coming off,” said the Granite Shoals resident. “I just didn’t want to die like that.”

His doctors, however, advised Williams that, without a ventilator, he probably had only 24 to 48 hours before his body shut down. It was his only chance to live.

The device, as Baylor Scott & White pulmonologist Dr. Yasir Cheema later explained in an email to DailyTrib.com, gets needed oxygen to a person’s body when their lungs can’t.

“When your lungs inhale and exhale air normally, they take in oxygen your cells need to survive and expel carbon dioxide,” Cheema said. “COVID-19 can inflame your airways and essentially drown your lungs in fluids. A ventilator mechanically helps pump oxygen into your body.”

At the hospital, an arterial blood gas test revealed Williams’ blood oxygen levels were in the low 50s when they should normally be in the 70s. Williams weighed the decision to go on the ventilator, calling a friend who is a physician for advice.

His friend confirmed his prognosis: 24 to 48 hours to live.

Shawna and Preston Williams of Granite Shoals
Shawna and Preston Williams celebrated 2021 with the greatest gift of all — life — after Preston battled COVID-19 in December 2020, including seven days on a ventilator. Courtesy photo

Williams then made a deal with the Baylor Scott & White medical team. If wife Shawna could hug him one more time — not just wave from the window to his room — he would go on the ventilator. They agreed.

“So, they wrapped her up with all that gear,” Williams said. “She came in. We hugged. We cried a little bit.”

He spent the next 7½ days sedated and breathing with the help of the ventilator. Finally, doctors began the process of taking him off the machine. After several days of mechanically assisted breathing, a patient needs to reclaim the process from the machine. Not everyone succeeds.

As Williams came out of sedation, he saw his medical team at his bedside and could hear them talking.

“There’s someone standing over me telling me, ‘Preston, we’re taking you off the ventilator,’” Williams said. “He’s telling me, ‘You have to breathe. You gotta breathe. You gotta breathe.’

“I guess I breathed because here I am,” he said with a laugh. “What I learned is that you either take that breath or you don’t.”

As he began to breathe on his own, more medical staff poured into his room and started cheering. 

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said with another laugh. “They were cheering me because I was breathing.” 

They were also cheering because he survived a severe case of COVID-19.

As he listened to the staff, Williams realized how amazing and caring healthcare workers are. 

“I can’t say enough about what they go through,” he said. “They deal with so much, and they continue to take care of us. And, you know, they can’t just shut it off, so you know they take it home with them — all the emotions and stress. Then, there they are, back on the floor the next day or the next shift still caring.”

He said his current health is about 80 percent of what it was before COVID-19. He looks at his situation as a second lease on life, one he plans to appreciate. 

He also appreciates all of the healthcare workers who continue to fight the pandemic, now entering its third year. 

“The Lord blessed me in so many ways, but he also blesses the nurses, doctors, and Baylor Scott & White staff, especially those nurses on the front line,” he said. “They were all remarkable. We all should be grateful for them and what they do because they just keep going and caring.”

daniel@thepicayune.com