Marty Griffin Collage

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Miracle Patient Survives COVID-19 After 98 Days in Hospital

Marty Griffin, a 58-year-old pastor, spent 98 days in the hospital battling COVID-19. Learn how his Atrium Health care team, family and faith worked together to save his life.

When Marty Griffin tested positive for COVID-19, he had no symptoms for 10 days. At age 58, he was in good health. He’s a preacher at New Hope Baptist Church in Marshville, North Carolina, and beloved by the community.

On March 16, Marty felt very tired. Over the course of several hours, his blood oxygen level dropped to 79%. At that point, he decided to check in at the emergency room at Atrium Health Union, where he was placed on the COVID-19 floor for monitoring. After a few days, he was moved to the critical care unit due to his low oxygen levels and breathing problems.

By late March, Marty developed pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. He described his lungs as feeling like “they were sitting in water.” Breathing became so difficult that he was having trouble standing and walking.

He was transferred to a progressive care unit, where he received care from a team of pulmonary doctors, including Dr. Grigor Badalyan, pulmonary critical care physician and director of pulmonary and sleep specialists at Atrium Health Union. To care for Marty, Badalyan partnered with additional pulmonary critical care teammates, including Dr. Eugene Kim, Dr. Ramarao Suresh, Dr. Anu Jacob and Dr. Erica Rabold.

Overcoming Challenges

In early April, Marty’s lungs got worse. He needed the support of a ventilator to help him breathe.

“We were dealing with the delta variant. More than 90% of patients in his situation didn’t make it,” explains Badalyan. “Our hope was, if you survived the first two weeks on a ventilator, you were probably going to survive.”

Marty’s health took a turn for the worse. He was transferred to critical care and put into a medically induced coma.

“Over the next month, Marty was in a fight for his life,” explains Kenda, his wife of 39 years. “We were called back to the hospital twice after going home for the night because they weren’t expecting him to live.” 

While on the ventilator, he developed nearly every possible complication, including acute kidney failure, which required dialysis, encephalopathy (significant brain dysfunction) and bacterial complications.

“To care for someone who is critically ill with a very high mortality risk, you have to pay close attention to every change, since early intervention can be lifesaving,” says Badalyan. “Our exceptional nursing team kept a close eye on Marty and made sure he received timely, state-of-the-art medical care right when he needed it.”

A Turning Point

“The day before Easter, I was with Marty and his family. We cried hysterically as the team told his wife that he would not survive. He was being kept alive by everything we had and a whole lot of prayer,” says Pam Emanuel, respiratory therapist at Atrium Health Union. “Marty’s family never wavered. I went home praying. When I came back the next morning, Marty was taking the turn toward survival.”

At the end of April – after 24 days of mechanical ventilation – Marty’s care team removed him from the ventilator. He started waking up gradually, and his brain dysfunction improved. He had a tracheostomy and was given a feeding tube. His oxygen levels stabilized. After several days, he was able to move his fingers and toes.

On April 30, Marty’s eyes started following people who entered his room, which was a significant step in his recovery. His medication requirements decreased while his mental status improved.

A week later, he was transferred to Atrium Health University City. Over the course of four weeks, they removed his tracheostomy and feeding tube. He was also taken off dialysis since his kidneys were functioning normally. His movement improved each day, and his mind gradually cleared. By week four, he was getting stronger and preparing for his transfer to an acute rehabilitation facility.

On June 7, Marty checked into Atrium Health Pineville Rehabilitation Hospital, where he spent 15 days in intensive rehabilitation therapy.

“When we arrived at rehab, Marty was barely able to stand – much less walk. Within two weeks, his team of physical and occupational therapists had Marty walking and getting ready to go home,” says Kenda. “They had a graduation date sign in his room so he could stay focused on his goals. They really pushed him through the training, which helped him to make progress.”

Cooperative Care, Power of Prayer

According to Badalyan, had it not been for the state-of-the-art equipment and team cooperation at Atrium Health Union, Marty’s outcome would likely have been statistical.

“There’s close cooperation between everyone involved in patient care, including our nurses, physicians, physical therapists and support staff,” explains Badalyan. “Our multifaceted care allows doctors to make immediate intervention when something goes wrong.”  

Faith also played an important role. While in the progressive care unit, Marty and Badalyan prayed together about his recovery.

“The staff gave all they had to care for me, risking their lives and their families’ lives during a significant peak in the pandemic,” says Marty. “I prayed with every nurse and doctor that came in. I didn’t ask if they believed or not. We just prayed.”

“Marty’s recovery was miraculous,” Badalyan notes.

 Family Support

Marty’s family – and his hospital family – supported his healing and recovery. 

Marty explains, “A lot of my progress had to do with the support I had at home. My wife was there from the time she could come in until they made her go home. We’re very close with our two sons. In fact, we all live on the same 80-acre property.” 

“Atrium Health was amazing to our family in the most difficult time,” Kenda says. “They took the time to make sure my sons and I understood everything. They cried and prayed with us. My husband is alive by the grace of God, who allowed Atrium Health to be part of that miracle!”

Marty’s care team developed a close bond with the Griffins.

“Marty is such a wonderful person, and his wife and sons were so involved with his care,” says Lynn Thompson, nurse manager of critical care and progressive care at Atrium Health Union. “Marty still comes to see us in the unit when he visits patients. Marty and his family became part of our ICU family.”

Thompson says she will never forget the first day Marty returned to the hospital after he finished rehabilitation. “Badalyan went over and said hello to Marty, and Marty replied, ‘Has anybody told you they love you today? Because I do.’ That was a remarkable and beautiful moment.” 

Learn more about critical care at Atrium Health Union.

Article updated on 2/9/23