Enell "Trent" Porter has long battled hereditary congestive heart failure and diabetes. But after recovering from Covid-19, the Florida resident is calling himself a survivor.
The 50-year-old had a heart and kidney transplant at UF Health Shands Hospital at the end of February and went home once he had recovered from the complicated surgeries.
But a few weeks later, Porter's wife and son fell ill, and then Porter got a cough and a runny nose. Porter says at first it seemed like he had allergies; his nose was running, he had headaches and couldn't sleep at night. But then he developed a cough followed by shortness of breathe.
A nasal swab test for Covid-19 came back positive. His wife, Irish Porter, says at one point his breathing was so bad, he could barely walk down the hall from the bathroom to the kitchen, so she called the ambulance. Very soon Porter was back in the hospital.
"This isn't over"
He spiraled into severe respiratory distress, needing a lifesaving-ventilator and medically-induced coma to protect his fragile new organs, says the University of Florida Health where he was treated.
But before he was put on the ventilator, the health care workers allowed him to speak with his wife. And he told her, "This isn't over."
Irish Porter says those words helped her through the hardest days while he was in hospital.
"I wasn't thinking positive at that time. Because I kept seeing all these people around us passing away," she says. But hearing his words changed that. "It was a sense of relief. Even though I was sick myself and had body aches, I was able to sleep. A peace came over me once he said he'll be back," she added.
And Porter did get well.
The first thing he said to his wife when he was conscious again was, "I made it back."
A complicated case
Porter says his can't thank his caregivers enough, and in particular Dr. Juan Vilaro, his cardiologist at the University of Florida Health. "He became a real friend. He made me feel more than just a patient," says Porter.
Dr. Vilaro says Porter's case was more complicated than others because he developed severe Covid-19 less than 30 days after a combined heart and kidney transplant. Since he was still intensely immunosuppressed, he was therefore at very high risk of the infection being fatal.
"Our concern was his high mortality risk. Every death from Covid is tragic but this was a man who had been fighting for years to get definitive treatment for his failing heart," Dr. Vilaro says.
"He was just starting to experience the benefits of living without end-stage heart failure symptoms with his family when he became infected with Covid," he added.
Dr. Vilaro calls Porter's recovery very lucky, especially given the the risk category he was in.
"Even in the highest risk subset of patients, there are plenty of survivors, but he certainly had numerous risk factors for dying of this and was able to pull through nonetheless," Dr Vilaro adds.
A difficult choice
Porter's case posed a tough choice for his doctors.
"It was like threading a needle with one hand. Covid causes other parts of the immune system to go into overdrive -- should we use meds to block that or should we other medication to keep him from rejecting his heart. One choice worsens the other," says Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at the Univerisity of Florida Health, who also treated him.
The hospital says everyone knows Porter, knows his smile, knows the special guy he is. When they saw his condition go downhill so quickly that he needed to be sedated and ventilated, they braced ourselves for the worst. But they were committed to getting him through it.
"We knew how badly he wanted to fight," Dr Vilaro says. "All I can say is that with a team effort, and lots of prayers, he's living to tell this story now, still smiling."
Porter and his wife says their faith carried them through this difficult time.
The family has just one message for people during this pandemic: Follow the guidelines of social distancing, washing hands and staying home. Otherwise, the virus will harm seniors and people on immune-suppressant medications like himself.
Dr. Cherabuddi says the coronavirus has also taken a huge emotional toll on patients like the Porters.
"We have had family members admitted at the same time. We had patients who were not able to go back home as they did not want to expose anyone else. The emotional issues have been as challenging as medical issues," he says.
The Porters' son, Caleb, says he's thrilled his father is finally well and back home.
"I am very, very excited," the five-year-old giggled.