ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – A tearful John Wilson recalls a text he received from his daughter, Allie, in December.
“‘You promise everything is going to be ok?’”
Wilson, a St. Louis County Police sergeant, could not make any promises because, at the time, he could barely breathe.
A week after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, the 47-year-old’s lungs were failing.
“His immune system had shut down,” his wife, Melissa, said.
Wilson was admitted to Mercy Hospital Washington on Dec. 21, 2020. He was on a ventilator a week later. The week after that, he was transferred to Mercy Hospital St. Louis, where he spent 39 days on an ECMO machine.
“I think there were a couple days, maybe even a week there, where it looked like even giving the lungs time to heal and recover, that Mr. Wilson wasn’t going to survive,” Dr. Michael Plisco, Mercy Critical Care pulmonologist, said. Plisco is the medical director of Mercy St. Louis’ ECMO program.
Plisco added that while some patients can benefit from ECMO, others do not.
The high-risk nature of the situation was hard to take for the St. Louis County Police Department and harder for the Wilson family.
John and Melissa Wilson have been married 25 years. They have two children: 22-year-old Jake and 17-year-old Allie.
“My low points were missing my husband. Not having him with me. I miss laying with him, and with our dogs, and everything that you do after 25 years together,” Melissa said.
But prayers and perseverance eventually led to progress.
“Two weeks ago, he was able to talk for the first time,” Jake Wilson said. “They put a talking valve into his trache. And he was able to talk to us for the first time in a really long time. It was amazing to hear his voice. It was actually the day that he was awake from sedation.”
Melissa said faith has played a key role in her husband’s recovery.
“We prayed every single night. There was never a time when I doubted him coming through this. Our faith has changed, for sure. Our faith as a family, has changed,” she said.
Support from the community has also been important, she added.
“My neighborhood is all lit up blue, right now – for John. That was pretty emotional. I come to the neighborhood, and I just start crying,” she said. “We’ve had family and friends from all our of life, from the Air Force, to the police family, to everybody that’s come through. The doctors and nurses here have been absolutely amazing. I feel like they’re family now.”
She expressed gratitude for BackStoppers, the St. Louis County Police Family Association Code3, Inc., gyms in the Washington, Missouri area, and others for their help along the way.
The assistance and support come as Wilson’s recovery has been marked with a series of milestones.
Allie Wilson remembers her first conversation with her father as he was coming off of sedation. They were communicating over FaceTime and her father was unable to speak at the time.
“I said, ‘I love you, Dad. You’re so strong.’ And he mouthed back, ‘I love you.’ And my brother was crying. I was so shocked that I couldn’t cry,” she said.
Melissa said that was one of several moments she will a treasure.
“I think about everything. Getting him off ventilator. And then getting him a trache. That was my first good moment because we could all see his face,” she said.
A huge recovery milestone took place over the weekend.
Sgt. Wilson was transported from the hospital to Mercy’s Acute Patient Rehab.
A line of first responders, including some from the St. Louis County Police Department, Monarch Fire Protection District, and Metro West Fire Protection District, were on-hand to cheer him.
“Wilson!” one of them shouted, as he was taken out of the ambulance.
Sgt. Wilson told Fox 2 he is grateful for the support he’s received from family, friends, colleagues, and his medical team.
And following his near-death experience with COVID, he has an important message to share with the public:
“Don’t take anything for granted. It doesn’t matter how healthy you are. The virus doesn’t pick and choose. So just do what you can to prevent from contracting it. Don’t take anything for granted,” he said.