Tammy Henning is sadly too familiar with spending long stretches in the hospital with loved ones needing medical help. That experience, however, has made her keenly aware of what exceptional care looks like and exceptional care is what she found at Mercy Health – Clermont Hospital when her partner, Dave Hughes, became very sick.
Tammy and Dave started having COVID-19 symptoms on Dec. 1, 2021, and Tammy tested positive on Dec. 5. Tammy, who is vaccinated, recovered. However, Dave, who harbored concerns about the vaccine and wasn’t vaccinated, became more and more ill. Despite his worsening condition, including nails and lips that were turning blue from lack of oxygen, he resisted going to the hospital.
“I said, ‘you’ll be sitting on the couch and be dead in the morning,’” Tammy recalls about the statement that convinced Dave he needed help. “I asked where he wanted to go and he said, ‘take me to your hospital with your doctors.’”
Tammy’s been in health care since 1981 and she started a new job with Clermont Internists Associates, a practice located on the Clermont Hospital campus, in late 2020. Dave had met the doctors at a team member’s wedding and was impressed with what he saw.
“On Dec. 14, we were in the emergency room at Clermont Hospital with him plummeting,” Tammy says. “It was his 59th birthday.”
Right away a respiratory support method, called Vapotherm, failed to raise Dave’s oxygen levels. It was then Dave’s care team, including one of Tammy’s employers, Anil K. Kakumanu, MD, internal medicine provider, as well as Stephen Major, MD, one of our pulmonary critical care specialists, knew Dave needed to be on a ventilator to get the oxygen his body needed to survive.
It was a rough ride. Dave extubated himself twice and accidentally pulled out the PICC line, through which he received medication, during a coughing spell. He also developed COVID-19 pneumonia.
His care team expanded to include David Beck, MD, PhD, one of our critical care medicine specialists, and Chandrasekar Vaidyanathan, MD, an internal medicine provider who is from Tammy’s office. A team of nurses also looked after Dave throughout his stay. Despite the size of Dave’s team and the complexity of his care, his team did a great job keeping Tammy up to speed.
“They kept me very informed and kept me in all of the decision making,” Tammy says. “The level of compassion I received from each and every person who was part of Dave’s care team was above and beyond the level of any human compassion I’ve ever witnessed. It was not just about the level of care that Dave was given, but the care I also received personally.”
She continues, “I was struggling with such anxiety when it came time to leave him and go home. One of the nurses in the intensive care unit told me I could call any time of the night and talk to her to see how he was doing. She even told me she would take the phone in and hold it to his ear so I could tell him good night and that I loved him. It was such a comfort to be able to do that.”
There was once specific incident that had a tremendous impact on Tammy.
“On Christmas Day, I walked into the intensive care unit and there was Dave laying in that bed on a ventilator for day number eight covered with a beautiful Christmas blanket with a small note attached. The note thanked us for allowing them to take care of us. It left an imprint upon my heart,” Tammy shares.
Tammy brought Dave back home on Jan. 4, three weeks to the day from when he first entered the hospital. He’d lost 50 pounds, was very weak and still experiencing some cognitive issues. Luckily, with time and regular physical therapy sessions, Dave is recovering.
The three weeks Dave spent in the hospital included Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. That’s not lost on Tammy.
“I witnessed people caring for my loved one who are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grown adult children and grandchildren leave or miss their family and family celebrations to come to work because sick people needed them,” Tammy says. “I want each and every person involved in health care at Clermont Hospital who is tired, weary, worn out and wondering if what they do is making a difference to know that they are. I need them to know that the families of the patients who get the gift of their loved one coming home call them, the care team, their heroes.”
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