Douglas softball coach recounts his COVID-19 recovery story

Local coach's survival story

DOUGLAS, Ala. (WAFF) - Douglas softball coach Johnny Champion got just about all he could handle from the COVID-19 virus this holiday season.

Our news partners at the Advertiser-Gleam recounted his story as this week he’s thankful to be back at home with his wife and family after more than a month in the hospital fighting for his life. Champion said his fight with COVID-19 began at the beginning of November.

“My symptoms first started on November 5 and on November 18, I had to go to the hospital,” he said. “After the symptoms started, I kept coughing and just couldn’t get over it. My oxygen levels got very low and I couldn’t get out of bed. My wife made me go to Marshall Medical North when I couldn’t get better.”

Champion was put in a normal room with oxygen on the first day but his health quickly deteriorated.

“Dr. Saylor came in and told me that I needed to be moved to the ICU with an oxygen mask,” he said. “Then, after three days in the ICU, he told me I would have to be put on a ventilator. That was on November 21st and I didn’t wake up until 10 days later.”

The frightening experience of fighting the virus along with being isolated was tough for Champion. He said the experience for anyone going on the ventilator is scary.

“I was very scared when Dr. Saylor told me I’d have to be put on the vent,” he said. “No one could be in the room with me so I had to call and tell my wife everything that was going on. It was a scary, scary moment for us.”

When a patient is put on a ventilator they are sedated completely. Champion said the vivid dreams and nightmares were something he’ll never forget.

“I’ve heard this is common with people put on the vent, but I would have these nightmares that were beyond terrifying,” he said. “I dreamed that I got worse, had to be moved to another hospital and that I died. I mean, I dreamed the funeral and everything. Those are images I’ll never forget.”

After 10 days, Champion was brought off the ventilator. He said he can remember Dr. Saylor trying to wake him up but he didn’t believe what was happening was real.

“It took me at least two hours to finally realize I was still me,” he said. “My dreams were so real that I was convinced I had died already. I just figured I was having another dream but I finally woke up. When I did, I couldn’t move anything. I wasn’t paralyzed but I couldn’t move at all.”

Once Champion was finally awake and alert, he was moved to a rehab facility where he spent 21 days. Today, he’s still using a walker but hopes to be off of it by the end of the month.

“I had to learn how to use my arms again, how to walk again and everything,” he said. “Two days on the vent will deplete your muscle mass and I was on it for 10. I’m getting around pretty well now and hope to be walking on my own again by the end of January.”

Champion is set to begin his sixth season as the Douglas softball coach and plans to do just that. He also drives a school bus for Marshall County Schools and plans to be back doing that again by March.

“There’s no way I would be here today without the prayers from my wife, my family and the community as well as the people who took care of me at Marshall North,” he said. “I’ve just been overwhelmed by the outpouring of people reaching out wishing me well. It’s really been amazing to see and I’m so thankful I’m back home.”

Champion concluded, “My plan is to coach this spring and get back to work by March. My softball family has been so supportive through all this and I’m excited to see them again. I just want to urge people to continue staying safe. I had absolutely no pre-existing conditions that would’ve led to me almost dying. You don’t know who it’s going to effect so just stay safe.”

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