By Rubin E. Grant
Dr. Jeffrey Davis walked into an operating room at St. Vincent’s Hospital on March 18 to perform a surgery he had done countless times.
But this time it was different. It was the first time Davis, a senior orthopedic surgeon with Andrews Sports Medicine, had performed surgery after nearly dying from an extended bout with COVID-19.
“They say when you do something for a long time it’s like riding a bike,” Davis said. “It’s so much muscle memory.”
Davis performed surgeries on two knees and a shoulder that day.
“It was great,” he said. “Surgery is the easy part. The hardest part has been remembering passwords and documentations because I hadn’t thought about them for five months.”
Davis started feeling bad on Nov. 2, but he didn’t think much of it.
“I had gotten our Christmas decorations out of the attic and I thought it might be allergies,” he said. “I started running a low-grade fever.”
But when his fever spiked to 104 degrees and he developed viral pneumonia, he decided to get a test at the COVID clinic at UAB. It came back positive.
Davis was sent home and told to take it easy. He thought he was on his way to recovery because after 48 hours, he didn’t have a high fever.
Then, on Friday, the 13th of November, Davis started experiencing shortness of breath, his oxygen level dropped. He developed blood clots in his lungs.
“My body attacked my lungs,” he said. “It was a hyper immune response.”
Hospitalization and Recovery
Davis, 60, was hospitalized with COVID-19 from Nov. 13 to Dec. 31 at UAB Hospital in the intensive care unit and nearly died during the first week of December.
“I got so bad one night I went into respiratory failure and they urgently intubated me. Unfortunately, the ventilator couldn’t oxygenate my lungs and I had to be put on the ECMO machine,” he said, referring to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine.
Blood is pumped outside the body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body. That involved tubes running into Davis’ neck.
Davis was on the ECMO for three weeks.
“I was very weak with lung issues, but I continued to get stronger,” he said. “I came home on New Year’s Eve day.”
Davis was sent home with an oxygen tank and began cardiopulmonary rehabilitation three days a week.
He still requires oxygen to exercise and still gets out of breath. He still takes a blood thinner because of clots that were in his lungs. But he has essentially recovered.
“I’m getting better and stronger and feeling incredibly blessed to still be here,” Davis said. “The hardest part was the isolation. I didn’t get to see my wife and kids and friends for five weeks.”
Davis said his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, died in August with COVID-19. His wife, Sheri, also tested positive for COVID-19 around the same time as him, but her symptoms were mild.
“This disease is so unpredictable,” he said. “I wasn’t skeptical of the virus, but I didn’t believe it would hit me this way. I didn’t have any of the risk factors.”
Return to Work
Davis made a dramatic appearance on Jan. 26 at Andrews’ office, with his oxygen tank. He saw patients during the first week in March for the first time since November and the surgeries on March 18 were the first he had performed since October.
He’s now working half days five days a week.
“I haven’t gotten too fatigued,” he said. “I’m not going up and down the stairs like I used to, but I have far exceeded what the physicians thought. My therapist said we have to keep resetting goals because I am reaching them so much faster.”
Dr. James Andrews, co-founder of Andrews Sports Medicine, was glad to see him back at work.
“We were praying for him,” Andrews said. “We really weren’t sure if he was going to pull through. When he made it back to the office, you wouldn’t believe the cheering, hollering and clapping the whole office gave him.”
Davis appreciates the prayers and support he received from the staff at Andrews Sports Medicine and the churches he attends, Church of the Highlands and the Gathering Place in Moody.
“I’ve got boxes of cards,” Davis said. “The outpouring of support is unbelievable.”
What Davis is most thankful for is being able to see patients again.
“The disability people called because they assumed I wasn’t going back to work, but I told them I was going back to work,” Davis said. “I am excited to be back. This is my passion and my gift, and I am grateful for the time to still utilize it for the glory of the Lord.
“It was fantastic to see patients again. I tell people you can get so caught up in doing the job, you forget why you started doing this in the first place. I was able to focus on the patients. It was nice not to be so busy and spend some time with patients.”