Matthew Ferro, 51, of Warminster, didn’t think it would happen to him. He followed the rules. He always masked in public, regularly socially distanced, hand washed and applied hand sanitizer.
He was adamant about not taking unnecessary risks. He turned down multiple invitations including one to gather with friends for New Year’s Eve. And Matthew refused to visit his parents indoors who lived locally for fear of inadvertently exposing them to COVID-19. He also was in good physical shape — faithfully exercising — with no underlying health conditions.
But what started on Sunday, February 21, 2021, was not what he expected. It was a dry cough. At first, Matthew thought nothing of it as it was mild. The next day, the cough persisted. By Tuesday, he had fever and chills, so he decided to get tested for COVID. Two days later, the test came back positive.
“I’ve never been ignorant toward this virus,” Matthew says, adding he doesn’t know how he contracted it. “I was careful.”
After being confirmed positive for COVID, Matthew’s health continued to get worse as the week progressed. His wife, Donna, had purchased a pulse oximeter (a fingertip device that measures the body’s oxygen saturation) weeks before just in case someone came down with the virus. When they measured Matthew’s pulse ox on the following Sunday, it was below 90 percent (between 95-100 percent is considered normal), indicating he needed medical attention. Donna took him to Doylestown Hospital.
An Intensifying Illness
While at the hospital, Matthew asked to be treated with monoclonal antibodies or Remdesivir, but the medical team told him he wasn’t severe enough in the disease course, so he didn’t meet the requirements. They treated him with IV fluids because he was dehydrated. Matthew felt better and went home.
By Wednesday, March 3, he felt that he couldn’t get enough oxygen. And when he went down the stairs in his home to get a drink and back up, he couldn’t tell there were steps underneath him, feeling like he was floating.
Matthew returned to the hospital and remembers telling the medical staff that he couldn’t breathe. At that point, he was admitted. Now he was eligible for monoclonal antibodies and the next day, he received the treatment.
Without any improvement by March 10, Matthew was told he’d have to be put on a ventilator to help him breathe and his lungs recover from the virus. He asked if he’d have to be put into a medically induced coma and was told he didn’t, but that he’d be heavily sedated.
“I remember telling my family I’d beat this,” explains Matthew.
That’s where his memory of what happened ends. But Donna was by his side the entire time — taking notes, asking questions and finding the answers. “She was just incredible. There for me with all of her life,” he adds.
Unfortunately, Donna heartbreakingly remembers when she was told to expect the worst.
Later that morning after Matthew was intubated on the ventilator, hospitalist Mary Ellen Pelletier, MD, told Donna that he likely wouldn’t survive. “I was shocked. He was just intubated three hours earlier. I thought he just needed some time to allow his lungs to heal,” Donna says. “I immediately told her, ‘I cannot do life without him! We have a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old.’”
Dr. Pelletier assured Donna that they’d keep looking for other options. She and pulmonologist Jameel Durrani, MD, luckily found one. It was an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine. This device pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body to an artificial lung (an oxygenator), giving the heart and lungs a chance to rest and recover.
Most hospitalized patients with COVID don’t require an ECMO to survive. Were it not for the resourceful Doylestown physicians on staff working closely with other hospitals, Matthew may not have made it. They secured him an ECMO from a downtown hospital and the facility’s medical team flew in via helicopter to bring him to the city for treatment.
During that period, Matthew couldn’t have any visitors. His family would video chat with him but he would only be able to blink in response to questions.
Slowly Matthew’s once-dire condition started to improve. Each day that he was on the ECMO, he needed the ventilator less and less. And within two weeks, he was taken off the ECMO but remained on the ventilator until March 28, when he was finally extubated.
Returning to His Life
On March 30, Matthew says he finally “woke up,” meaning he could recognize what was going on, because he was no longer sedated. “When my wife visited, I immediately began to cry when I saw her, because I understood what happened to me,” he says, holding back tears.
After that point, Matthew spent a week at a local rehab hospital and received home care for another six weeks. He finally returned to his marketing job at Aon Insurance on June 1. While he currently doesn’t have full lung capacity, doctors told him within a year, he could be at 90 percent of normal.
Life is finally returning to some level of normalcy for Matthew. Still, his health isn’t the same as it was, and he wanted to say to those who might not understand how devastating COVID can be: “If COVID wants you, it’s going to take you. I don’t care how young or healthy you are. It just doesn’t discriminate.”
So grateful to be spared, Matthew and Donna recently returned to Doylestown Hospital to thank the staff for their hard work, kindness and ultimately, for saving Matthew's life.
“The nurses were always so gracious to me and my family,” he says. “They were always trying to help… I could see the joy in my wife’s eyes when she was reunited with these people who helped her get through this.”
When asked if he received the COVID vaccine, he said that as soon as he was cleared to get the first shot, he did and made sure to get it at Doylestown Hospital, because he felt safest there. “One of the ICU nurses who worked with me gave me my shots to bring this full circle,” says Matthew with relief in his voice.
About Emergency Services
When medical emergencies arise, patients of all ages can count on the skilled physicians and specialized nurses of Doylestown Health Emergency Services. Fully equipped with private treatment areas, critical care suites and a designated pediatric/minor acute area, the Emergency department can handle any emergency while offering patients confidentiality and comfort. Dedicated resources for specialized care include the Woodall Chest Pain Center and a certified Stroke Resource Center, as well as affiliations with Jefferson Expert Teleconsulting and Temple MedFlight.