Valley COVID survivor returns to hospital to thank doctors and nurses

Jul 1, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 9:32 am

(Banner–University Medical Center Phoenix Photo)...

(Banner–University Medical Center Phoenix Photo)

(Banner–University Medical Center Phoenix Photo)

PHOENIX — A 49-year-old Valley man who survived COVID-19 returned to the hospital to thank the doctors and nurses who helped him beat the disease that almost took his life.

“To be able to give the nurses a big hug and say thank you, and know that they played just such a huge role in me being here today,” said Neal Brown, who started feeling unwell on a skiing trip and received a positive COVID-19 test after returning home.

“You can just tell that they truly care about their patients and what they’re doing.”

Brown knew it was time to go to the hospital after experiencing the worst fatigue he had felt in his life early this year.

“I think we were thinking it would be a couple of days in the hospital getting over some COVID symptoms, but it was heading down a road, quite honestly, didn’t know where it was going to lead to,” Brown said.

Soon after, his life would be turned upside down.

“The doctor, he said to me, ‘your heart’s not pumping enough blood’ and quite honestly, I took that rather personally in the sense that I had just been skiing at 11,000 feet and felt that I had a very strong heart and was in good shape,” Brown said.

Brown was diagnosed with acute myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, and it was causing the organ to pump only 15-20% of the blood it should be distributing. Doctors said he would need a pump to help the flow.

“To just give you a feel for still how … clueless I was at that time of how serious it was, I asked the doctor, ‘are you doing that now or are you doing that in a few days?’” Brown said.

“He kind of chuckled and said, ‘no, we’re doing it right now.’”

The situation was critical and doctors decided Brown would need even more care and that he would be placed on ECMO, a rare and specialized life support tool for the heart and lungs.

He was transferred to Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, where Marie Hilton was one of the nurses to take care of him.

“Neal was our first VA (veno-arterial) mobile COVID ECMO, and when we went and got him, he was so incredibly sick,” she said.

“I took care of him a couple of days in the run, and he still then was very sick. We didn’t know if he was going to make it or not.”

Hilton felt a strong connection to Brown when she discovered he had small children, just like she did.

And just like Hilton was thinking of her own kids when working with her patient, Brown was thinking of his family.

Despite being heavily sedated, Brown said subconsciously he knew he had to survive.

“I had some, you know, very important reasons to live, not the least of which are my wife and my four beautiful girls at home that are young and need a dad … I’ve got a 3-year-old,” Brown said. “She needs a father, and I was going to get back to that.”

Brown miraculously survived and recently made a trip back to the hospital that gave him a second chance at life.

Hilton said not all patients return to the place where they almost died, but Brown did and said it was important to come back to show his gratitude.

Brown added he feels better knowing that there are doctors and nurses in the Valley who care and are so talented.

Despite still needing to do physical therapy, Brown is back to leading a mostly normal life and has even returned to work. What’s even better is being back with his family.

“Just wonderful to be back … be able to spend time with my kids and my wife … being back to normal is unbelievable,” he said.

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Valley COVID survivor returns to hospital to thank doctors and nurses