ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For 158 days, Brenda Bailey watched as her husband fought an internal battle.
"There was quite a few days I didn’t think he would be here," Bailey said.
Nate McWilliams doesn’t remember any of it. His only reminders are pictures Bailey took.
"I'm glad to be alive," McWilliams said.
McWilliams was admitted into the hospital with COVID on June 27. The couple put off getting vaccinated and decided only a week earlier they wanted to get the shot.
"It was a procrastination," Bailey said.
Now, they wish they hadn’t waited so long.
"This is for real. You got to take this seriously and get your vaccination because if not, you don’t want to be where I was at," McWiliams said.
Where McWilliams found himself was in the ICU days after getting to the hospital. His wife of 24 years thought the worst.
"I’m never going to see him again," Bailey said she thought during his hospitalization.
Weeks later, McWilliams was placed on an ECMO machine.
"I said, 'What if we don’t do it?' They said, 'He might have 24 hours,'" Bailey said the medical team told her.
He would spend the next 91 days on the machine, which acts as an artificial lung.
"I will confess, I was disheartened by day 30. His lungs were not getting better," said Dr. Luciano Lemos-Filho, McWilliams' primary doctor.
Lemos-Filho is the ECMO director at Swedish Medical Center. He said COVID-19 patients usually are on the ECMO machine for 14 day, not for 91 day like McWilliams' case. Lemos-Filho said it's a 50/50 chance a patient lives once placed on ECMO.
A team of about ten people cared for the father of three every day, ncluding one of his nurses, Madison Babb.
"He had so many bumps in the road, and there were times where we just had to maintain every single day," Babb said.
By mid-October, McWilliams turned a corner and began regaining the strength he lost.
"I couldn’t stand up," McWilliams said.
But now, a couple of weeks after his 55th birthday, McWilliams can go home.
"When I get home, I’m going to be so happy. I get to see the dogs. I miss them," he said.
First, his medical team gave him a proper send off — lining the halls and cheering as he was rolled out. Before arriving to the exit, McWilliams stood out of his wheelchair. Many of his healthcare providers were seeing him stand for the first time.
"To see him walking and be able to go home is very emotional because we fought so hard to get them to that point. I’m really happy," Babb said.
Nearly a half-year lost, yet it's a new appreciation for life gained.
"You never know," McWilliams said. "You could lose it just like that."