With his coughing becoming constant and his oxygen levels precariously low, he was admitted to a Dayton area hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Because of his young age and good health history, including no pre-existing conditions, Hunter and his family had no idea he was in for the fight of his life.
Taken to the intensive care unit, he was given antibiotics to combat the pneumonia. However, he wasn’t a candidate for monoclonal antibodies because the CDC at that time said the treatment was reserved for older people or immunocompromised patients, said his mother Tammy Goodpaster, a registered nurse of 25 years.
As he progressed, he kept getting more short of breath and his heart rate kept increasing, she said. He also became very restless and agitated at times.
While getting X-rays and MRIs to see if he had fluid in his lungs, Hunter ended up needing dual chest tubes because his lungs were collapsing from the pneumonia. Hospital staffers eventually pulled his mother out into the ICU waiting area.
“(They) said, ‘Look, your son’s in critical condition,” she said. “This is an hour-by-hour situation, and we’ve done everything we can, but we’re going to need to put him on a ventilator because we need to give his lungs a chance to rest. We need to get him to a higher level of care.”
With that, his mother and the hospital launched a 2-day search for an Ohio hospital that could do just that.
On Oct. 21, his 11th day of his hospitalization, Goodpaster was admitted to UC Medical Center in Cincinnati, where he spent more than two-and-a-half months in its cardiovascular ICU on oxygen, a ventilator and venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VV ECMO), which gives support to the heart and lungs when neither can function on their own.
“Had we not done that, Hunter would have died,” Tammy Goodpaster said. “From being a registered nurse and working in an ICU, I knew what he needed, and it was that much harder. It was one of the most heart-wrenching things as a parent, and it was probably even harder for any health care worker who’s worked in this field to actually see your own child go through this kind of an event in their lives.”
“The emotions that you experience, I don’t think that there’s really words to describe it other than that you just pray every single day from the time you get out of bed till the time you go to bed and you have to give words of encouragement every single day to the person. That’s what I did every single day.”
During Goodpaster’s time at UC Medical Center, he experienced multiple episodes of being in a crisis state, even after he was placed on VV ECMO. He also underwent a tracheostomy.
Learning to speak again
He battled back and was finally discharged from UC Medical Center on Jan. 5.
He has his voice back after relearning how to speak following his tracheostomy. He also completed the pulmonary therapy that has helped him breathe again and the physical therapy that has helped him walk again.
Goodpaster and Chaffin recently got engaged.
He said he’s grateful for the care he received from the UC team, especially Dr. Joseph Sun, a UC Health anesthesiologist and critical care intensivist closely involved with his care.
“I’m as thankful as one can be, honestly, because ... they saved my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”
Tammy Goodpaster said she credits UC Medical Center’s “outstanding care” for helping save her son’s life, saying there was a plan of care within 10 minutes of entering its doors.
“We made the decision that we are going to do everything it took to save Hunter’s life,” his mother said. “I believed, with my faith, that God had a greater purpose for Hunter.”
Sharing his story
Part of that purpose, she said, is having her son’s story shared to hopefully help another family or save someone else’s life.
“I want people to understand that COVID is a very serious illness and they need to take this very seriously,” she said. “Vaccines are critical to help save people’s lives.”
Her son received his vaccination several weeks after he left the hospital.
She said she understands people’s fears and encourages them to do their own research, but ultimately, “you have to go with your conscience.”
“All patients have the right to refuse care ... if that’s their wishes, but sometimes you have to look at the greater good, and vaccines are the greater good,” she said. “I had other children who were skeptical (about vaccination), but it only took the first time of seeing Hunter on life support to change their minds.”