‘I’m grateful to be here today,’ Knoxville pastor says after battling COVID-19

Local Coronavirus Coverage

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — At 60 years old, Michael Napier knew he wasn’t in perfect health, so he took COVID-19 seriously.

Napier had diabetes and liver issues, but barely left his home — especially without a mask — when the pandemic hit.

He knew he was at a higher risk for serious complications if he contracted COVID-19.

On Aug. 12, Napier wasn’t feeling well. He had a sore throat, some nasal drainage and difficulty breathing.

He went to the doctor and tested negative for COVID-19.

That was on a Wednesday. That Saturday, feeling worse, Napier got a chest X-Ray.

Napier said his scans showed pneumonia in both lungs. He wasn’t tested for COVID-19 that day.

On the following Wednesday, Napier went to see his doctor again to get some medicine for the pneumonia diagnosis.

He said his doctor would see him the next day, but Napier wouldn’t make it to that appointment.

That Wednesday night, he was rushed to the ER after barely being able to breathe.

“They immediately put me on oxygen, tested me for COVID and said ‘you have COVID,'” Napier said.

His battle was just beginning.

Within a few hours, Napier’s doctors told him to call his wife, Linda.

“They had dialed the number for me to talk to my wife, said ‘talk to your wife and talk about the good times you had.’ I thought that they were trying to calm my anxiety. In kind of retrospect, I think that was my goodbye call. I think that they thought, ‘this is it; he’s not going to make it,'” Napier said.

His wife thought the same thing.

“I asked her what kind of chance he had, and she said ‘it doesn’t look good.’ And I just knew I was going to end up a widow,” Linda Napier said.

Linda Napier was told her husband needed to be intubated.

“Of course I knew, they already told me in the ER that there was an 85 percent mortality rate when they’re intubated,” she said.

Linda Napier couldn’t see her husband for the next few weeks while he was unconscious.

She had to settle for a few phone calls every day for updates.

“Knowing that I couldn’t be there was the hardest part. That’s what I hate about this COVID, you couldn’t be with your loved ones in the time they most need you, you know. And the thought of them dying alone. It’s just unbearable,” Linda Napier said.

All she could do was pray, and ask others to pray for her family.

Michael Napier is a pastor at Berea Baptist Church, which is right next door to their home.

Linda Napier said their church family stood in their front yard — praying.

“I asked God to perform a miracle, so that everyone would know it was him that did it and he’d get the honor and glory,” she said.

While Michael Napier was unconscious, doctors would work on him.

He received Remdesivir and antibodies from other COVID-19 patients, as well as proning treatments to help his lungs get more air.

“They would roll me over and, basically, around the clock I had one nurse assigned to me just to keep me moving,'” Michael Napier said.

After three weeks, several miracles happened: The first miracle was when doctors told Linda Napier they would be able to remove her husband from intubation.

The second miracle — she was allowed to sit outside his ICU door.

“Right before they pulled the tube out, they let me come and just sit outside the glass there in the ICU and I’d write little notes on a whiteboard and hold them up to the window,” Linda Napier said.

The third miracle was that her husband didn’t need a tracheostomy to help him breathe after the tube was removed.

The fourth miracle was Michael Napier successfully woke up after being intubated.

“I’ve lost 70 pounds to the thing, I lost strength in my legs, my arms. People think COVID is a political thing, or they try to politicize it. Let me tell you something, it’s not. People, people are dying. It is a miracle, me, with the age that I am, the pre-existing conditions I have, that I pulled through that and that’s nothing short of God himself,” Michael Napier said.

He said another miracle was being able to go to the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, the rehab center he wanted to go to.

“I jokingly say they have ways to hurt you that you never thought you could hurt. But they’re a, they’re a miracle,” Michael Napier said.

Michael Napier spent another few weeks at in-patient rehab before going home.

Every day he told them they were watching and helping a living miracle.

They helped him walk for the first time in almost two months.

“I can’t speak kindly, highly enough. Those are highly trained professionals. I was amazed at their knowledge and skills to be able to help me progress. They’re incredible,” Michael Napier said.

He has a long road of recovery ahead of him, but he was able to celebrate his 61st birthday at home with family.

Michael Napier had two messages he wanted people to know after surviving COVID-19: Listen to the health officials and have faith.

“COVID is real. I hear it being politicized and it’s very frustrating. The mask had become a political issue. I don’t have a political issue or a dog in this fight, but when people say, ‘I’m not going to wear a mask because I don’t need a mask.’ Maybe you’re right, but what about the person next to you,” he asked.

“It was nothing more than God himself. And it’s because of my faith in him, that he took care of it. And I believe he’s left me here for this story,” he said.

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