U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) Fire Inspector Brad Henderson has battled his share of conflagrations in his time, but none as formidable as COVID-19.
The 17-year veteran of YPG’s Fire Department endured a nearly four-month hospitalization, which included 55 days where he depended on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) life support machine.
He was also on a ventilator for more than two weeks after being removed from the ECMO machine.
His ordeal began Columbus Day Weekend.
“I had shortness of breath. When they took me to the hospital, I was told that I had acute pneumonia and as kind of an offhand remark from the doctor that I had tested positive for COVID. I didn’t believe it at first, until I took a second test.”
“The doctor was actually more worried about my cough,” added wife Shannon Henderson. “Brad just had a little cough, and I had a severe cough.”
He was at Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC) for a week, and his condition declined precipitously. He was flown to Banner University Hospital in Phoenix on October 18.
“I only remember the first two or three days of being at YRMC. After that, the next thing I remember is December 11th, when I woke up. It was a bit of a surprise to find out what date it was.”
He was finally discharged from Banner on February 4. While using a walker, he was able to ring the hospital ward’s celebratory gong as he exited. It was a relief, but also an unfamiliar circumstance for someone whose occupation had demanded physical fitness for so many years.
“The doctor said probably the only reason I survived was because of my physical condition,” he said.
He’s back home now, but still not fully recovered. He has to use an oxygen tank and make regular visits to Phoenix to see medical specialists. It is still unknown when he will be able to work again, but his fellow YPG Firefighters and other members of the YPG Family have been in his corner throughout his ordeal.
“I’d get phone calls from them, ‘are you eating?’ If I didn’t eat that day, I’d get yelled at,” recalls Shannon. “They definitely looked out for me.”
The help was more than just motivational speaking: they brought over hot meals, helped Shannon fix her car, and even set up a GoFundMe page for Brad.
“Before Brad got home, several of the guys came out and helped to rearrange the furniture in the house,” said Shannon. “They cleaned up the garage, played with the dogs—it was amazing. For over a week they brought dinner over for us. It has been an absolute blessing.”
More than anything, Henderson looks forward to regaining his health and coming back to work.
“It’s difficult to need help when you’re the one who helps people,” he said.