David's Story

From a 50/50 chance of survival to walking and talking independently

It was supposed to be routine cataract surgery. But a day later, David Level, 70, began experiencing a bevy of concerning symptoms – a cough, body pain, elevated temperature and a headache.

His doctor diagnosed him with the flu. That evening, he worsened. David told his wife Kay he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

Kay called 911 and doctors at the hospital placed him on airway support and a ventilator.

David improved and was briefly taken off the ventilator. However, he again declined and had to be put back on the machine. Setbacks returned him to intensive care twice with pneumonia, septic shock and kidney failure requiring dialysis.

Kay said that she was told to call the family because there was less than a 50/50 chance he would survive.

David continued to fight and pulled through. His breathing stabilized, as did his kidney function. He no longer needed a ventilator or dialysis. At that point, Kay could consider the next stage of healing. She chose Select Specialty Hospital – North Knoxville for its experience helping medically complex patients begin to breathe, speak, move, eat and think again.

A physician-led team, including nurses and therapists, created a plan to get David back to his family.

It took two weeks for David to become aware of his surroundings. Over that time, the physical and occupational therapy team began a mobility program, moving his arms and legs daily to keep blood flowing. Nurses repositioned him to avoid pressure wounds and ensured he was comfortable.

Once David awoke, he told the treatment team his biggest goals were to use his hands and walk.

“I worked daily on getting on the side of the bed, holding my head up, and using a walker,” Dave said. “Therapy made me believe I could walk again.”

While David was hospitalized, the COVID-19 pandemic landed in the United States. To protect patients and staff, Select hospitals stopped in-person visitation. Still, our hospital kept Dave connected to his family through daily video chat sessions.  Kay was most appreciative of the daily phone updates from his care team.

After several weeks, David’s airway support was removed and he was able to breathe independently and speak clearly. He was moving his hands and taking tentative steps with the walker.
David departed for a skilled nursing facility, to continue therapy and get home as soon as possible.

David and Kay hope to visit the hospital once restrictions are lifted to say “thank you” for all the loving care he received at Select Specialty Hospital – North Knoxville.