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Taylorsville Journal

Coronavirus the latest medical challenge for a Taylorsville resident with lives like a cat

Sep 21, 2020 04:25PM ● By Carl Fauver

Taylorsville residents Brad and Marlene Woolley have enjoyed 42 years of marriage, although the last two have been quite challenging. (Michael Woolley)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Marlene and Brad Woolley were married 42 years ago and have lived in two Taylorsville homes for 40 of those years. Marlene said her 42nd anniversary, last June 15, was not one of their better ones.

“Many people go on a cruise for their 42nd anniversary, but my husband was on a ventilator,” she said. “That was just about the time a doctor was telling me we should probably start planning Brad’s funeral.”

However, shortly after that mid-June marital milestone, things finally took a turn for the better with Brad’s coronavirus case. Following a couple of weeks of physical therapy, he was finally released from Murray’s Intermountain Medical Center on July 8.

“I am still on oxygen and could be for the next six to nine months,” Brad said. “But I am gradually weaning off of it. I’ve cut my oxygen use in half since leaving the hospital. I am weaker now [from coronavirus] than I ever was following my heart transplant.”

Brad’s nearly two-month hospital stay for COVID-19 was not his first extended stint there. In fact, his convoluted and often harrowing medical journey actually goes back some 20 years. 

“When I took a routine physical exam for a new job in 2000, they discovered a heart murmur I had been aware of before had gotten worse,” Brad said. “That led to open heart surgery.”

The surgery helped for a time, but in November 2008, he suffered a massive heart attack.

“It was the type they call a ‘widow maker,’” Brad said. “They had to put in three stints. I was very lucky to survive it.”

Unfortunately, doctors warned him his heart would continue to deteriorate and work at only a fraction of normal efficiency.  After another decade—and another round of open-heart surgery—it finally became inevitable that he would need a new donor heart. Brad was admitted back into the hospital last September, with his name on a list to receive a heart. The family had no way of knowing whether he would survive long enough to get to the top of that list.

“My O+ blood type is the most common which creates a high demand for donated organs,” Brad said. “When I went into the hospital a year ago, I had no way of knowing whether I would survive long enough to receive a donated heart.”

Luckily, he did. And the Woolleys are forever grateful to those people who commit themselves to be organ donors. 

“I cried when I was told there was a heart for me; I could not believe it,” Brad said. “I thought I would be waiting for months, if I survived that long. It was an incredible surprise. I just can’t express enough gratitude to the donor family.”

Marlene shared in her husband’s amazement and gratitude.

“Oh my gosh, it was an absolute transformative moment when we learned a heart had become available,” she said. “There are very few things someone can do to provide a living legacy. But being an organ donor is one of those. Donors can save six or more people through their generosity. We are incredibly grateful.”

Marlene also pointed out that organ donors must do more than just check a box on their driver’s license renewal form. She said it is critical people talk to their families about their decision, so in their time of grief they know what course of action to take.

Brad underwent his heart transplant surgery last Oct. r 28. However, due to complications, it took more than double the normal amount of time for such a procedure. Marlene sat in the waiting room, receiving almost no updates, for 16 hours.

Brad would remain hospitalized for more than a month after the surgery before finally being released to go home just two weeks before last Christmas.

“I calculated it myself, based on billing statements I had received, and I figured the cost for my heart transplant and all the care that came before and after, was in excess of $8 million,” Woolley said. “I am on Social Security disability coverage, so we have only had to cover co-payments.”

Because his new heart was still not functioning completely properly, Brad spent the next several months going nowhere but to physical therapy and doctor appointments. In essence, he began self-isolating and social distancing for three months before the rest of us started to follow suit in mid-March, with the arrival of the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, despite all that distancing, somewhere on one of his few treks away from home, Brad contracted COVID-19.

That led to his most recent nearly two-month stay at the hospital, before his July 8 release.

“I was weaker when I came home [from the coronavirus hospitalization] than I ever was following my heart transplant,” Brad said. “I think I received the best possible care. My nursing staff was wonderful and so overworked and busy. Coronavirus is a terrible, horrible disease. I don’t understand how anyone can think they are special and they will not get it.”

Throughout her husband’s ordeal, Marlene tested negative for the virus three different times.

“I did not think I could survive anything more challenging than Brad’s heart transplant, but that was a walk in the park compared to COVID-19,” she said. “It was so difficult because we were separated and out of contact.”

But Marlene is now finally allowing herself to feel glimmers of optimism. She believes the parents of three sons, and grandparents to four children, may finally be turning the corner.

“I feel we can now be hopeful; I am cautiously optimistic,” she said. “Brad is working incredibly hard and has made such great improvement. But there is still so much we don’t know about COVID-19. We are not out of the woods. But compared to where we were, it feels much more hopeful.” 

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