For front line health care workers, Peter Woullard is representative of why those in the profession have been celebrated as heroes. His recent experience is representative of their worst fears.
His resiliency represents hope.
Woullard, 52 and a behavioral health unit technician at St. Charles Parish Hospital, was recently discharged from the ICU of Ochsner Medical Center in Kenner after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was placed on a ventilator three separate times and for 29 days overall. He came through the harrowing time and was celebrated upon his exit from the hospital, as his wife Patricia and several members among his family, friends and co-workers cheered him as he crossed a vital milestone in his recovery.
His stay at the Kenner hospital was 38 days in total, and a scary time for his family on multiple levels – Patricia, for example, is a fellow St. Charles Parish Hospital professional, an operating room assistant. He’s not not completely out of the woods yet: as of this story’s publication, Woullard was not yet well enough for an interview, and he is receiving further care at Ochsner Extended Care Hospital.
Woullard was working on the front lines battling the pandemic until testing positive for COVID-19 near the end of March. It soon became clear his symptoms would not be on the mild side of outcomes, as he came down with a high fever, necessitating his return to his workplace. Only this time, it was from the other side.
At one point during his treatment, he went into cardiac arrest. Alissa Amedee, a registered nurse among those who cared for Woullard during his near 40 day stay at Ochsner-Kenner, said concern was high.
“A lot of our COVID patients were just not doing well at that time, and it really hurt my heart seeing these patients dying and knowing he could be next,” Amedee said. “I didn’t want to have hope for him because my hope had been lost on so many patients, but his wife would not let any of us lose hope. She just kept praying for us and for him.”
But Woullard soon turned the corner in a positive direction.
“I was beyond excited that he woke up and spoke to me,” Amedee said. “I’ll never forget some of his first words to me … I was telling him I was going to Facetime his wife later that day so she could finally see him without the breathing tube. It had been about 15 days. He responded, ‘Yeah, it’s been hours.’ I couldn’t help but laugh with him. He didn’t even realize all he had fought through to be there and awake that day.”
That Woullard and Amedee are colleagues in their profession didn’t add to the pressure of the situation, Amedee said, noting that pressure is there in regards to any patient in the same scenario. But on top of that, she didn’t want to let Patricia down. Amedee said she made sure to call each shift and make sure that Woullard’s family knew he was being taken care of and to let her speak to her husband, even if he wasn’t awake to respond.
“I felt like that would be important to my family and I if we were in that position,” Amedee said.
Once Woullard began showing progress physically, his sunny demeanor began to return rapidly as well, Amedee said. For three weeks, Amedee helped care for the patient without ever being able to interact, but once his breathing tube was removed, his positive attitude became clearly apparent. That’s something Amedee believes will serve him well as he continues down the path to recovery.
“He always seems to have a smile on his face,” Amedee said. “I didn’t truly get to know him (at first). We tried to inform him of all that had occurred during his stay, and even then he was smiling. That’s why I believe he will have a positive outcome, because he has such a positive attitude and the best support from his family.
“I’ve seen him overcome so much. I know if he puts his mind to it, he can and will make a recovery to get back home and see his kids and grandkids.”