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Video: SC firefighter-EMT discharged from hospital after 5-month COVID-19 battle

North Spartanburg Firefighter-EMT Don Johnson was first put on a ventilator in November

don johnson firefighter discharged from hospital covid19 north spartanburg south carolina

Photo/Spartanburg Regional

Bob Montgomery
Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — It was Nov. 13 when firefighter Don Johnson was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, not knowing how long his stay would be.

On Wednesday, five months later, he was finally released amid the cheers of roughly 75 hospital staffers, fellow firefighters, family and friends.

“Harrowing,” was how the blue-eyed, 55-year-old Spartanburg man described his experience with a virus that since last March has hospitalized 2,125 people and caused 773 people to die in Spartanburg County.

The staff at Spartanburg Medical Center’s Mary Black Campus held a surprise farewell celebration for Johnson when he was discharged.

Cheers erupted as Johnson, using a walker and wearing a black face mask, exited the hospital.

He was driven home by Nick Ray, battalion chief of North Spartanburg Fire Department, where Johnson is a fellow firefighter and an emergency medical technician.

“This is an outstanding show of support,” Ray said of the fire departments that attended the ceremony, including Drayton, Converse, the City of Spartanburg, and Spartanburg EMS. “It speaks to our nature and cause as a brotherhood.”

Johnson, visibly surprised and fatigued by the turnout, said he would not wish COVID on anybody.

Through Wednesday, there have been 564,931 cases, 22,150 hospitalizations and 9,304 deaths statewide, and 39,979 cases in Spartanburg County, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“They said he would never wake up,” Johnson’s wife Tonia said. “But he did.”

She said her husband was unconscious when he was admitted to the hospital in November. When he awoke after Christmas, he was transferred to restorative care, then taken off a ventilator.

In early March, he was transferred to the Mary Black Campus, where he underwent several weeks of therapy.

“He had to learn to walk again,” Tonia said.

During his hospital stay, she said he suffered multiple strokes, a heart attack and brain bleeding.

Tonia and Don’s three sisters — Angelia Harman, Donna Rhodes and Rita Sizemore — and his two sons Austin and Zach — visited him often and prayed for his recovery.

“We as a family would not give up on him,” Tonia said.

Chanda Flynn, chief nursing officer at Mary Black, said the family’s support plus the care Don received by health care providers enabled Don to recover to the point of being discharged. His recovery with therapy will continue at home.

"(This is) a celebration for all of the health system,” Flynn said. “We’re just glad to be a small part of that success.”

Tonia said she has faith Don will make a full recovery and resume his duties at the fire department.

She said he missed out on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter — and eating out with family once a week at any local restaurant that serves fine steak.

“He hopes to be the man he was,” she said. “He was and is strong. He’ll do it. We have a lot of holidays to make up.”


(c)2021 the Spartanburg Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.)