MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — As COVID-19 cases begin to uptick once more, James "Nathan" Watkins and his wife, Monique, are celebrating one year of life together after the disease nearly killed Nathan in July 2020.
They said the recent increase in cases amid the delta variant has brought back concern and flashbacks of Nathan, hooked up to a ventilator fighting for his life
"To me, it's fearful," said Monique. "I'm fearful because of everything we went through, our family went through. I would never want another family to have to go through what we went through."
On July 18, 2020, Nathan went to Atrium Medical Center. By July 21, he was put on a ventilator and flown by AirCare to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He went on an ECMO life-support machine three days after that as his kidneys began to fail from the virus.
"More often than not, individuals with COVID placed on ECMO, we ended up withdrawing care in consultation with the family," said Dr. Steve Feagins, medical director of Hamilton County Public Health. "So more often than not, it was not successful."
Monique wasn't left unscathed by the virus either. She had significant symptoms and their children had sinus infection-like symptoms. Monique said she still hasn't fully recovered her sense of smell or taste, one year later.
Nathan was able to come off the ventilator on August 9, 2020, but that was only the beginning to a long recovery. He spent weeks at the Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Health, followed by more time spent in a rehab center.
"We rely on our faith, so it was like, 'Nope, nope, nope, he's going to live and he's not going to die,'" said Monique. "And that's what kept replaying in our heads. That's how I made it through."
While Nathan was in the hospital, his family couldn't visit -- they could only see him over FaceTime. As he fought for his life at UC, they relied on his care team to keep them connected to the stay-at-home father of two.
"It's scary because when you're dependent upon others giving you updates on your loved ones, and for me, I worried that he would think he was all alone," said Monique.
As the pair celebrate one year of life reunited after the experience, they said the current rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the Tri-State worries them deeply.
Feagans said there are roughly three times as many patients suffering from COVID-19 than just two weeks ago, though it's still nowhere near the peak of cases seen in February.