Wife's mission to save her husband from COVID-19

A Clermont woman took on the fight to find the treatment to save her husband who was suffering from COVID-19. 

Robby Walker, 52, needed an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, and his wife, Susan Walker, found one across the country.

Robby is now recovering from COVID-19 after doctors said over the summer he would not make it out of the hospital.

"I just didn’t know what to do. I was grasping at anything," Susan said.

Her husband tested positive for COVID-19 in July, and by a few weeks later, he was in the hospital with pneumonia in both lungs and had signed papers to be intubated and placed on a ventilator.

"That’s when she told me that Robbie wasn’t going to make it out and that there was nothing else that they could do for him and he was not progressing in a forward motion," Susan said.

Susan wasn’t going to accept that. One of the couple’s daughters died from a brain aneurysm two and a half years ago, and Susan couldn’t bear the thought of losing Robby, too.

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"I just couldn’t believe it and I was so desperately seeking anything I could to find him help," Susan said.

Susan needed to find her husband an ECMO, a machine that would help his heart and lungs function.

Doctors said it was the only option to save him, but Susan needed to find a hospital that had one and would accept Robby as a patient.

"I woke up and said let’s just call every hospital that offers ECMO in the state of Florida," she said. "We were up against the availability of Florida hospitals, and the fact that hospitals were going by whatever formula to get a candidate placed on ECMO."

She contacted more than 150 hospitals, including outside of Florida, with no luck until a doctor in New England saw an interview about Susan’s mission to save her husband and reached out to help."I just couldn’t believe that we were finally going to get a chance at saving his life," Susan said.

St. Francis Hospital in Connecticut had an ECMO available and was willing to take Robby as a patient. He got on a plane, fully intubated, on his way to start treatment. Susan says it was a risk she was willing to take.

"I would have personally rather he die fighting than [with] me sitting there watching him die little by little," she said.

Robby remained on the machine for 22 days before being transferred to Gaylord Specialty Care in Connecticut for rehabilitation. He now spends a lot of time doing physical therapy and is beginning to show signs of improvement.
"He’s breathing and we’re holding hands and he’s sitting up. It just would have been a different story," Susan said.

Robby was emotional when talking about his wife’s willingness to help him survive. He’s thankful she never gave up hope."If it wasn’t for her not taking no for an answer, we definitely would have had a different outcome," Robby said. "She’s just my hero."

Robby was not vaccinated when he contracted COVID-19. He says he now wishes he got his shots as soon as he was eligible for the vaccine and encourages others to do the same. Susan has since been fully vaccinated and Robby received his first shot last week.

The couple expects Robby to be released from the hospital at the end of next week. They will then return to Florida where Robby will continue to recover at home.

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