Darick's Story

COVID battle goes from fearful to hopeful

When Darick Dugger began experiencing breathing trouble and coughing, the 54-year-old went to the emergency room for a COVID-19 test.

Relieved that it came back negative, the auto parts dealer tried managing symptoms at home. Instead of feeling better, Darick felt progressively worse. Rhonda, his wife of 35 years, said enough was enough, they were going back to the hospital for answers.

This time, scans uncovered pneumonia and Darick was admitted. Two days later, his COVID-19 test was positive.

While the family, which includes four adult children and three grandchildren, was glad for answers, they worried. Unable to visit due to restrictions in place to keep patients and staff safe, Darick battled on alone with his family relying only on phone updates.

He experienced kidney failure and began dialysis. Then, his heart stopped. The medical team revived Darick, placed him on a ventilator and arranged transfer to the intensive care unit.

Unresponsive for nearly a month, surgeons performed a tracheostomy and connected a feeding tube. Then, scans uncovered that Darick’s had brain swelled, causing a stroke.

For Rhonda, the difficult news was compounded by one of Darick’s doctors saying Darick would “never make it out of the COVID unit.” Following the stroke, another prepared Rhonda that he wouldn’t recover.

But, Rhonda said, the family’s faith was stronger than the physicians’ doubt. They leaned on it heavily, and a month later, Darick regained consciousness and started following basic commands.

Eager to find a hospital that would give Darick a fighting chance, Rhonda chose Select Specialty Hospital – Memphis.

He arrived requiring every service the hospital provided. Connected to a ventilator, dialysis and feeding tube, Darick also had two serious bacterial infections requiring intravenous antibiotics.

An interdisciplinary, physician-led team created a plan to get Darick well and home to his family.

Select Specialty Hospital - Memphis is one of the few facilities in the region that accommodates ventilator/dialysis patients.  Most facing this level of specialty care must be placed in out-of-state skilled nursing facilities.

Rhonda and the family wanted to avoid more separation, so returning Darick to independent breathing became the primary goal.

Respiratory therapists started stepping back ventilator settings, testing whether his lungs were capable of performing more work.

For the first two and a half weeks, Darick was minimally conscious. Physical and occupational therapists arrived daily to perform range-of-motion exercises that kept blood flowing. Nurses repositioned him to avoid pressure wounds and ran through a series of orienting statements, such as the weather, date and time, to spark mental stimulation. Pharmacists rounded, checking medication and dialing back powerful antibiotics as infections resolved.

By the start of the third week, Darick progressed enough for therapists to sit him at the bed’s edge. Though he needed full support to remain upright, it was a significant milestone.

The next came when Darick liberated from the ventilator and tolerated placement of a special valve permitting more normal speech. At first, he could mumble just a few words. Working with respiratory and speech therapy, he became more proficient.

That’s when the hospital team arranged a video chat with his family. It was an emotional moment. Rhonda said seeing him on screen would have been enough but hearing his voice for the first time in almost three months made everyone burst into happy tears.

Seeing his wife, children and grandkids again kindled deeper resolve in Darick to keep pushing in his recovery.

Over time, was able to sit with no support, follow commands, speak more clearly and assist with transfers out of bed.

Speech therapists led mouth, throat and jaw exercises to reactivate swallowing reflexes and speech. Dietitians crafted a transitional meal plan that took Darick’s kidney health and the stroke’s after-affects into consideration. He could eat pudding, applesauce and other smooth-textured foods.

Finally, Darick’s tracheostomy was removed and he returned to independent breathing.

Despite multiple, dire predictions early on in his COVID-19 diagnosis, Darick was going home.

“It’s a miracle,” Rhonda said. “We made him a shirt that says ‘I’m a living, walking, talking, moving miracle.’ We are so thankful God gave us a chance to get Darick to Select Specialty Hospital – Memphis. The doctors, nurses, everyone was wonderful.”

After four months in hospitals, Darick returned to his family, supported by home health.