On April 6, 24-year-old Patrick Dalton and his wife Bailey, 23, should have been celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Instead, Patrick fought for his life in an East Tennessee hospital bed. Meanwhile, Bailey was quarantined in the Knoxville home they share with Patrick’s parents, Felicia and Tony, and his younger brother Alex.
Everyone in the Dalton household had tested positive for Covid-19, but the family members experienced different severity of symptoms. Bailey had a fever, cough, and limited senses of taste and smell; Felicia experienced a fever and fatigue; and Alex noted a terrible headache alongside his fever and loss of taste and smell. Tony, on the other hand, was entirely asymptomatic. But it was Patrick–strong, seemingly healthy, and a former college athlete at Austin Peay–who struggled to breathe and needed to be rushed to the nearest hospital on the evening of March 30. On Easter Sunday, Patrick was transferred from Knoxville to Ascension Saint Thomas West because he needed to be placed on an external artificial lung machine known as ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).
“I was so scared and worried,” recalls Bailey. “I felt helpless because I couldn’t be at Patrick’s side.” Felicia says, “We all felt helpless. No parent should have to experience their child being on life support.” Fortunately, Dr. Ashok Babu and the rest of Patrick’s care team at West kept the Daltons informed throughout the next few weeks–even calling at 1 in the morning on two separate occasions, as Tony recalls with gratitude. Thankfully, after more than a week and a half on the ECMO machine, Patrick’s lungs recovered enough for the machine to be removed. He was later weaned from the ventilator, as well. Another win occurred on May 8, when Patrick could finally breathe without supplemental oxygen for short periods of time.
Throughout his hospital stay, Patrick’s nurses played CDs that his family had created so that he could be comforted by their voices and some of his favorite songs. When Patrick became more alert and aware of his surroundings, Dr. Stacey Vallejo printed and framed a photo from Patrick and Bailey’s wedding so that it could be displayed for Patrick in his room. Hospital chaplain Reverend Jill Zimmer helped Patrick set up video calls with Bailey and his parents.
After testing negative for Covid-19 and being deemed healthy enough for transfer back to Knoxville, Patrick spent time at a rehabilitation center near his family’s home. Though limited visitation was possible at the rehabilitation center, the real reunion finally occurred at Patrick’s homecoming on May 27. That date marked 58 days since Patrick had last slept in his own bed or eaten a meal around the kitchen table with his family.
This weekend, the Daltons celebrated with extended family and friends at a drive-by celebration held at Patrick’s old high school, Christian Academy of Knoxville. Guests drove from as far away as West Tennessee and Virginia; each car carrying passengers who cheered, waved colorful signs, and floated balloons.
For an interview with the Dalton family, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Below, view Dalton family photos and photos from his recent “welcome home” celebration in Knoxville. Email me to see a video of his emotional discharge from Ascension Saint Thomas West.