After 39 days on a ventilator due to COVID-19, Justin Moon, 36, woke up with a hole in his throat, unable to talk, walk or move. All he could do was blink.
Moon, a Tuscaloosa resident and former University of Alabama football player, was admitted to his local hospital with COVID-19 on July 21, 2021. Days later, he was placed on a ventilator and transported to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Moon spent 79 days in the hospital, with most of those days at UAB Hospital. He is currently on the road to recovery, regaining his strength and learning how to walk, stand up and use his right arm again after experiencing nerve damage.
“During those six weeks on the ventilator, I had no idea that I was fighting for my life,” Justin Moon said. “There’s only one other step beyond where I was at, and that’s cremation or going in your box. I actually died for four minutes, and they shocked me and brought me back. It’s a complete miracle that God saved me. Not too many people get a second chance at life.”
After a long and difficult battle with the virus, Justin and his wife, Mel Moon, have used their story to encourage their network of friends, family and colleagues to get vaccinated through texts, emails and face-to-face conversations. To date, Justin’s family members and his employer have used his story to inspire at least 250 people to get vaccinated.
Prior to being diagnosed with COVID-19, Justin and his wife openly discussed their hesitation of getting the vaccine due to the spread of misinformation surrounding the shot. After the second surge hit, they decided it was time to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, their decision came too late. Just days before they were scheduled to get their first dose, both were diagnosed with COVID-19. It was then that the Moons began to face one of the most difficult situations they had ever faced.
“We were unsure of the vaccine, and we were wrong,” Justin Moon said. “My situation did not have to be like this. If I had not been unsure of the vaccine and got vaccinated, it would have probably gone like a lot of other stories. ... I would have had a headache, shortness of breath and just laid on the couch for a few days.”
COVID takes its toll
Moon has been an athlete his entire life and was relatively healthy with no underlying health conditions prior to his diagnosis. The severity of the virus quickly progressed, and at one point during his hospital stay, his family was told to prepare to say goodbye.
“Sometimes I would video chat him just to make sure he was breathing,” Mel Moon said. “I still have trouble wrapping my head around that. I look at him now, and I honestly can’t believe that I am here talking to him.”
The Moons have made it their mission to openly share the realities of the virus and the impact it is continuing to make on their lives today in hopes of helping others.
“If just 10 people do not have to walk through this, then that is 10 less people that have to go through what we have gone through,” Mel Moon said. “That was our goal through all of this. ... We don’t want anyone to have to go through what we have gone through, and that is the lesson we learned. Don’t stand still; do your homework. Don’t listen to the wrong sources. Talk to your physician and your family, and make the best decision for you.”
COVID does not care
“Unfortunately, one thing that we have noticed during this pandemic is that COVID does not care,” said Brent Patterson, Special Care Unit Rehabilitation Team Lead and one of Justin’s physical therapists. “We have seen it in doctors, nurses, children, parents and grandparents. We have even seen young people become truly debilitated because of COVID. Our mission as a team has been to help patients regain their health and get them back to their daily lives sooner.”
The Jefferson County Department of Health is urging the community to help Kick COVID. Go to www.jcdh.org for more information on COVID vaccination.
Patterson and team are part of the Special Care Unit at UAB Hospital, which treats patients who have been on a ventilator for an extended period of time with a goal of weaning them off the ventilator within 21 days, and has an 88 percent ventilator wean rate through their model. The unit is made up of acute care nursing personnel, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists. The SCU provides the services needed to help patients like Justin Moon regain their sense of independence.
“When my patients make it through COVID-19, that is when the real fight begins,” Patterson said. “A lot of people do not realize how this virus takes away your independence. People who had lived normal lives prior to getting the virus wake up paralyzed, unable to walk, talk, eat, swallow, among other things they were able to do before. The majority of them come to the realization that they could have done something to prevent this from happening.”
It is time to take action
As winter approaches, Patterson is concerned that there could be another surge if people do not take precautions.
“My concern heading into this winter is that more people will die,” Patterson said. “If we care for each other the way that we all individually want to be cared for, then we need to show love for each other, prepare for the future, and do the right thing to prevent this pandemic from surging, and replicating any worse. We have the power to stop it by getting vaccinated, and we need to come together as one to put an end to this pandemic.”
Learn more about how you can get your COVID-19 vaccine today at uabmedicinevaccine.org.