MADISON, Ala. (WAFF) - A recent celebration for Jewel Belcher at Madison Hospital was not a guarantee.
After 48 days of care, she was pushed out in a wheelchair with doctors, nurses, security guards and other hospital staff cheering and throwing confetti her way. Wearing a crown, she seemed overwhelmed by the experience.
Jewel originally went to the hospital on March 19th for a typical infection. She had no symptoms of the coronavirus. But, after a week of care, a routine test showed she was positive. From there, it became a battle of life and death that would eventually involve her entire household. Jewel would get sicker and sicker throughout the rest of March and the entire month of April. She developed pneumonia and needed blood transfusions.
Jewel lives with her daughter, Kat Neal and Kat’s husband, Mace. They were kept away by the statewide policy barring visitors from hospitals to prevent spreading the virus. “I thought my mom was going to be dead” Kat told WAFF 48. “I thought I was going to be getting a call. Every time the phone rang and it said ‘Huntsville Hospital’, I thought ‘what is it today?’”. Kat says not knowing what was happening was excruciating. “I kept praying, Lord wrap your arms around my mother, because I can’t see her, I can’t talk to her, I don’t know what’s going on.”
Since Kat and Mace shared a home with Jewel, they were put under a two week quarantine. For most of those two weeks, everything was fine. But, as the time was about to run out on April 2nd, Mace started showing symptoms. He deteriorated quickly. “He was talking, then all the sudden, he was not talking. His breathing had gotten heavier, then more shallow, and when I went around to the front of the bed to look at him, he was at the last of his breaths.” Kat didn’t know it at the time, but Mace’s lungs had collapsed and fluid filled his chest, compromising his heart.
Mace was rushed to Huntsville Hospital, but doctors couldn’t save him. He passed away on April 2nd with respiratory failure due to COVID-19 listed on his death certificate - one of four people in Madison County to die of the virus as of May 13th.
Kat was in shock. Her mother was fighting for her life, her husband was gone and she couldn’t even give him a proper funeral, all while the state was shutting everything down because of a virus no one had even heard of a few months before. Then, another emotional gut-punch. Kat tested positive for coronavirus as well. She would have to quarantine two more weeks and hope she could survive the virus. In this dark time, the staff at Madison Hospital became Kat’s life line - giving her updates on her mother and encouragement in her own fight. “I think the thing that got me through was that every time I called, I had a nice person on the phone to talk with.”
The staff at Madison Hospital rallied around Jewel. They were determined to get her healthy and show that anyone can beat COVID-19. Around the beginning of May, the tide turned. She was improving every day. “It was tough, it’s been scary” said RN Summer Belue. Gabriele Green, the charge nurse at Madison’s COVID floor told us “We are the ones who are here for our patients. We are the ones in there. We’re doing everything for them. We’re their lifeline to the outside."
With Kat recovered, Jewel was ready to be discharged. Finally, on May 6th, she was wheeled out and headed for home. The 10th and oldest COVID patient to be released from Madison Hospital.
“We’ve been working toward a goal now for 40-plus days of her getting better, getting her out of here, getting her up so she can see her family” Green told WAFF. “This parade, her being up in this wheelchair, has proved you can beat it!”