FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) — A man who was given a 5% likelihood of survival after contracting COVID-19 is now sharing his story of survival in hope of saving others from going through the trauma he did this year. Nathan Washam, 43, was in a coma for nearly two months and later diagnosed as paralyzed following his contracting COVID-19.
Washam, who prior to COVID-19 was very physically active, went into the hospital in January 2021 weighing 218 pounds. Much of his weight was muscle mass. Washam says he had 18-inch biceps before hospitalization.
Washam did not have underlying health conditions nor was he immunocompromised. He did battle cancer nearly two decades prior. Doctors with UCHealth said his previous cancer diagnosis do not contribute to his severe response to COVID-19.
“I’m a non-smoker, non-drinker, very physically active and healthy person who went from living a normal life to having every single thing in my life taken away from me,” Washam told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas.
Washam was not vaccinated at the time of his hospitalization, as vaccines were not available to the general population as they are now.
Many skeptics of COVID-19 and some of those opposed to vaccinations have suggested the survival rate of COVID-19, estimated to be between 95% and 99% by medical researchers, is worth the risks of likely-temporary illness.
Washam hoped sharing his story of relearning how to walk, eat and drink without assistance would help skeptics realize survival from the disease often isn’t easy.
“This can happen to anyone,” Washam said.
Washam said he didn’t remember much from when he contracted COVID-19. He said his oxygen levels dropped significantly. He remembered being rushed to the emergency department by ambulance. His next memory was waking up from a coma.
“I remember being wheeled in through the back door, but beyond that, I don’t remember anything until I woke up months later,” Washam recalled.
While hospitalized he lost nearly all of his muscle mass, dropping from 218 pounds to just over 160. Doctors told him one of the reasons he likely survived was that the virus was able to attack his muscles before attacking his organs.
However, upon waking up, a lack of muscle was the least of his concerns.
“Coming out of the coma I couldn’t move anything, I was 100% paralyzed. Couldn’t move my lips. Couldn’t blink. Couldn’t do anything,” Washam said.
His wife, Sarah, said she was devastated to not be able to be by her husband’s side as he clung to life.
“It was scary, it was heartbreaking,” Sarah Washam said. “It is so difficult when you love someone like that to see them struggle.”
Nathan was eventually released from the hospital. However, unable to walk, he was taken home in a stretcher and needed the assistance of machines to get him in and out of bed.
Sarah had to help him bathe, use the restroom, way, drink and more.
It took months for Nathan to regain some of his independence. His wife stood by his side as he relearned to walk. She recorded video of his first steps and shared them with CBS4.
“You don’t know what this is like until it knocks on your doorstep,” Sarah said. “Then he started walking. That is the husband that I married. I knew in my heart that he could do it, and he did.”
Washam credited the medical staff at UCHealth for saving his life and giving him a second chance at being a present father and husband.
“I would go through cancer and chemotherapy 100 times over before I would even consider going through this again. This has been one of the hardest journeys of my life,” Washam said.