Ex-Alabama football player says he ‘died for 4 minutes’ while battling COVID

A former University of Alabama football player spent 79 days at the hospital battling COVID-19.

A former University of Alabama football player spent 79 days at the hospital battling COVID-19.

Screengrab from University of Alabama at Birmingham video on YouTube

A former University of Alabama football player never thought he would be battling COVID-19 at age 36.

(*4*) Justin Moon, of Tuscaloosa, said in a University of Alabama at Birminghamnews release on Nov. 22. “It’s a complete miracle that God saved me. Not too many people get a second chance at life.”

Moon went from having a sinus infection to four days later being admitted on July 21 to a local hospital with COVID-19, his wife, Mel Moon, told university officials in a video.

Moon was then transferred to University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital days later, where he spent 39 days on a ventilator, according to the news release.

After weeks on a ventilator, Moon woke up with a “three-quarter inch hole” in his throat from the tracheostomy tube and was unable to talk or walk, he told university officials in a video.

Hospitalized for 79 days

Moon could only summon up the strength to blink after being hospitalized for 79 days, he said in the news release.

“You got to understand, being a 300-pound former athlete, you know man that was, that was tough … but you never give up,” he told the university in a video.

Brent Patterson, the hospital’s Special Care Unit rehabilitation team lead, said Moon’s recovery process was “almost like when you’re trying to train a baby to walk.”

Moon is relearning “how to walk, stand up and use his right arm again after experiencing nerve damage,” according to the news release.

He was an athlete his whole life with no underlying health conditions, so when the coronavirus progressed, his family was shocked.

At one point, doctors told Moon’s family “to prepare to say goodbye,” according to university officials.

“Sometimes I would video chat him just to make sure he was breathing,” Mel said in the news release. “I still have trouble wrapping my head around that. I look at him now, and I honestly can’t believe that I am here talking to him.”

Inspiring others to get vaccinated

Now Moon and his wife have made it their mission to inspire others to get vaccinated.

At least 250 people from their network of friends, family and colleagues have gotten vaccinated, according to university officials.

Moon and his wife were skeptical of getting vaccinated due to misinformation about the coronavirus, but when the second surge hit, “they decided it was time,” they said in the news release.

Both were diagnosed with COVID-19 “days before they were scheduled to get their first dose,” according to university officials.

“We were unsure of the vaccine, and we were wrong,” Justin said in the release. “My situation did not have to be like this. If I had not been unsure of the vaccine and got vaccinated, it would have probably gone like a lot of other stories. … I would have had a headache, shortness of breath and just laid on the couch for a few days.”

’We have the power to stop’ the pandemic

Physical therapist Patterson and his Special Care Unit team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital treat “patients who have been on a ventilator for an extended period of time with a goal of weaning them off” within 21 days, according to the news release.

The hospital has an 88% “ventilator wean rate through their model,” Patterson told university officials.

“When my patients make it through COVID-19, that is when the real fight begins,” Patterson said in the news release. “A lot of people do not realize how this virus takes away your independence. People who had lived normal lives prior to getting the virus wake up paralyzed, unable to walk, talk, eat, swallow, among other things they were able to do before. The majority of them come to the realization that they could have done something to prevent this from happening.”

But Patterson worries that there could be another COVID-19 surge in the hospital if people “do not take precautions,” he said in the release.

“My concern heading into this winter is that more people will die,” Patterson told the university. “If we care for each other the way that we all individually want to be cared for, then we need to show love for each other, prepare for the future, and do the right thing to prevent this pandemic from surging, and replicating any worse. We have the power to stop it by getting vaccinated, and we need to come together as one to put an end to this pandemic.”

Karina Mazhukhina is a McClatchy Real-Time News Reporter. She graduated from the University of Washington and was previously a digital journalist for KOMO News, an ABC-TV affiliate in Seattle.

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