After a difficult three months, the Townsends finally had their family of six all back in one place as Kelsey, the mother of four, returned home after a long battle with COVID-19.
What life had been like for the Poynette family since Nov. 4 all happened so fast for Derek, Kelsey’s husband, who welcomed his wife back home on Jan. 27.
A few days after Kelsey, 32, returned home from a 12-week hospital stay, which included being in a coma for 70 days — and giving birth to the couple’s fourth child via C-section in the process — everything hit Derek after a seemingly small task. But after the last three months he endured, it was anything but that. He was finally able to silence his cellphone for the night, as the couple tucked their children into bed.
“It was amazing,” Derek said of turning off his phone. “That’s when it hit me. I hadn’t been able to do that for a long time. I was getting multiple calls a day (from doctors and nurses), sometimes late at night or early in the morning. Typically, when you get calls at that time, they’re not a good calls. When you hear the phone ring, your heart sinks.”
But that one night, when he put his cellphone on silent, was the best night Derek had in a while.
“That shows how far we came,” he said.
There was a lot of uncertainty for the Poynette family during the previous 12 weeks leading up to that point.
Kelsey, along with Derek and 8-year-old daughter Payton, contracted COVID-19 in late October — even as the family followed all the guidelines from health officials — and made a trip to the hospital. Derek and Payton recovered relatively quickly.
“I recovered quickly, within a few days,” Derek said. “Kelsey got worse, but (Payton) recovered quick.”
The couple’s two youngest children at that point never got sick. Derek then took Kelsey back to the hospital on Nov. 4 as he knew something was wrong. Kelsey was also 39 weeks pregnant with the couple’s fourth child.
“Within one hour of arriving, she was induced into a coma,” Derek said.
Kelsey’s health was in such a dire condition, that doctors felt it was the best way to treat her symptoms. While in her medically-induced coma, baby Lucy would be delivered via C-section.
“There was a lot of confusion the day we went to the hospital,” Derek said of Nov. 4. “I thought Kelsey would recover from the C-section, get treated for COVID-19, and we’d be able to leave the hospital together.”
Derek could not be present during or after the surgery, as he was still in quarantine from his positive test a week earlier. He would not see his newborn child until a few days later.
Kelsey remained at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison for a few more days, then was transported to UW Hospital, where on Nov. 9, she was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine — better known as life-support.
Derek did not get to see his wife much at all during her time in the hospital.
“It was really hard,” Derek said. “Some days, there’d be good news, and some days there’d be bad news (on her progression).”
However, on Christmas Eve, the two were together, as they were notified that Kelsey needed a double lung transplant because things had gotten so bad from the virus.
“We thought that (getting a transplant) would be the only way she’d get to come home,” Derek said.
Kelsey was placed on the transplant list Jan. 6. Derek said that multiple offers were received from donors, but the family was waiting for the perfect fit.
Then some good news came to the Townsends. The doctors had been taking regular X-rays to see if there was any progression in Kelsey’s lungs. Shortly after being put on the transplant list, doctors noticed significant improvements in her lungs. A few days later, even more improvement was seen.
On Jan. 10, Kelsey became a Status 7 (or temporarily inactive) on the transplant list — meaning her name would still appear on the list, but no offers would be accepted. It also meant that whenever Kelsey was cleared to go home, she could do so with her own lungs.
There came a point during Kelsey’s lengthy hospital stay, though, that Derek had to have a very difficult conversion with his children, as he had to talk to them about the possibility of “mommy” not coming home.
Two of the children — Payton, and 5-year-old brother, Beau — were old enough to know what was going on, but not to the specific extent.
“At one point, it wasn’t looking good,” Derek said. “We had to have that conversation of that chance that she might not come home, because she was very critically sick.”
“It was in God’s hands (at that point),” he added, saying that the Townsends are a Christian family. “There was a lot of prayer over the last three months.”
On Jan. 13, Kelsey was taken off life support after about 70 days. Derek said Kelsey “kicked it into high gear” after that, as she was just placed on a trach (tracheostomy) while letting her body heal and working on rehab. It wasn’t long before Kelsey was allowed to breathe and eat food on her own.
Then more good news came — Kelsey was cleared to go home, with that day set for Jan. 27. It was that day, while waiting for Kelsey outside of UW Hospital, that Derek recalled the numerous trips made there to give doctors and nurses things to take to Kelsey as he was not able to go the room. He said it was so hard to be that close and not be able to see his wife.
“It was very surreal,” Derek said of the moment he saw Kelsey outside the hospital. “It was a long time coming.”
“I had a lot of emotions,” he added. “The nurses and doctors were amazing. I can’t say enough about the job they did — they saved Kelsey’s life. Without those nurses and doctors, she would not be coming home.”
Derek said that as his wife was wheeled out, the hospital staff lined the halls and were clapping for Kelsey.
A full recovery could still be months away
While Kelsey’s recovery has been nothing short of a miracle, there is still a lot of progress to be made. Kelsey remains on oxygen 24 hours a day and gets physical therapy at home from a visiting nurse.
“She still gets a lot of attention,” Derek said, adding that since getting home, Kelsey has been able to move around a lot more than in the hospital, where it was restrictive.
Derek said the doctors gave Kelsey a time frame of three to six months in order to make a full recovery, but ultimately, it will be done at Kelsey’s speed.