A Florida man is heading home after three months of lifesaving care in Connecticut.
Robby Walker needed specific ECMO machine treatment for his Covid-19 diagnosis.
His family did everything to get him the help he needed.
“A lot of the beds were full. They tried looking closer. Nobody had a bed for him. They called I believe over 160 hospitals,” said Chief Perfusionist Angela Sakal at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford.
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When a cardiovascular specialist from St. Francis heard about Walker’s struggle on social media, he wanted to help.
Walker was flown more than 1,000 miles to St. Francis Hospital in August.
“When we left Florida, we were told he was not going to survive the trip and did I know what I was up against,” said Walker’s wife Susan.
Tuesday, members of his care team from St. Francis Hospital and Gaylord Specialty Healthcare gave the Walkers a grand goodbye as Robby was discharged from the Wallingford rehab facility and boarded an RV bound for Florida.
“This is the first time I’ve seen my brother in three months, so it’s obviously very emotional and again I’m just glad he’s coming home and that he’s with us,” said brother Bill Walker, who was helping drive them back to Florida.
It’s been a long journey from when Walker arrived in Connecticut in August.
“But you leave the house with your lights on, the dog was home, and the TV was on, and we haven’t been back since,” said Susan Walker, who first brought her husband to a Florida hospital in July.
“You just don’t realize when you leave home, like, your life’s not guaranteed, you know?” she said.
To see him leaving Wednesday, “It’s awesome. I’m trying hard not to cry. I can go home and breathe now,” said Sakal, who explained the technology St. Francis had available that needed to keep Walker breathing.
For 22 days, the ECMO machine took blood out of his body, removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen to let his lungs rest and recover.
“His lungs were not able to handle it on their own. He needed help,” she said.
Tuesday, the couple thanked the care team for creating a longer future for their love story.
“Twenty years and I’m so glad it’s going to be 20 more,” said Susan.
“I’m glad to be here. All the people that helped me on the journey are here,” said Robby.
“I’m just glad that they looked at me as a person, instead of a statistic, which was kind of how we were being looked at in Florida," he added.
Nurses from St. Francis Hospital’s cardiac critical care unit cared for Robby during his darkest days,
“With ECMO, ventilator, the worst of the worst,” said registered nurse Brianna Strahowski.
She and her colleague couldn’t miss Robby’s discharge.
“I was actually the nurse that had Robby when he arrived from Florida, so being able to be there from the beginning and see his progress and growth, it’s unbelievable. It brings tears to my eyes to now see him go home and be with his family. And this is exactly why we do what we do,” said registered nurse Veronica Luster.
The couple wrote handwritten cards for those who cared for Robby too.
“This is exactly what we needed. We had a really tough time the past couple weeks with people in ECMO they don’t always do well, and he’s like the one in a million that does this well and gets to go home, so this is big,” said Strahowski.
“I don’t think there’s anything I could ever say to show that appreciation,” said Robby, who said if he could go back in time he’d get vaccinated.
“My answer now would be absolutely get it, you don’t want to be where I’ve been even though these are great people,” referring to all the health care workers wishing him goodbye at his discharge.
Looking forward, the Walkers plan to slow down when they get back to Sunshine State and retire thanks to the live-saving care here in Connecticut.
“It’s just amazing that (the health care team is) all here and I’m here."