Road to Recovery: Cape Girardeau doctor shares his COVID-19 story of survival

Doctor Keith Graham spent 49 days in the hospital battling the virus.
Updated: Jun. 16, 2020 at 9:50 PM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Sometimes life has an interesting way of turning everything upside down so we can slow down, and see things clearly.

“It’s just crazy that everything changed so much in such a short period of time,” said Tammy Graham, Dr. Keith Graham’s wife.

It’s hard for Dr. Keith Graham and his wife, Tammy to wrap their minds around all that’s happened in the last three months.

It started with a dream vacation in early March.

“We were going on a two week Panama Canal cruise, something we’d been planning for a couple of years,” said Tammy Graham.

When they left they’d heard about the Coronavirus, but it was not a widespread concern at the time.

If that would have been the case, the Graham’s said they would not have gone on the trip.

“The whole world changed when we were on the ship,” said Tammy Graham.

While at sea, warnings started to emerge from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctor Graham began to cough, and had a sore throat.

His symptoms got worse when they got home.

“It was very similar to what you might have with the flu,” said Doctor Graham. “I had a lot of muscle aches and pains and fever, despite the use of Tylenol and that type of thing.”

He went and got tested for COVID-19, and the results came back positive.

“The main thing was a significant cough and also shortness of breath,” said Doctor Graham. “The shortness of breath is what really lead me to go to the hospital. The last thing I remember is them putting the oxygen and the sheet on me, and going through the hallways of the hospital.”

Tammy Graham dropped her husband off at the door, worrying about what might happen in the days ahead.

“When he went into the hospital that day, I knew it was serious. I asked him if I could post on Facebook to ask for people to pray for him,” said Tammy Graham. “He said, sure I need all the prayers I can get.”

Tammy knew she had to stay strong, especially for their two children.

“I continued to post and as I did people started sending me messages telling me stories about Keith,” said Tammy Graham. “I have tons of stuff that he hasn’t seen or read yet. It just grew, I couldn’t even fathom that many people caring, much less praying for us on a daily basis.”

Her posts were shared by people all over Cape Girardeau and beyond, including many from out of state that the couple doesn’t even know.

“She (Tammy) never lost faith that I would get better, despite all the setbacks while I was in the hospital,” said Doctor Graham. “She knew I was going to improve.”

Doctor Graham’s situation is unique given what he does for a living.

“I’m a pulmonologist and so we deal with all kinds of diseases in the lung, including viral diseases.”

Meaning, he was well aware of what he was up against.

He spent 29 days on a ventilator at Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau.

“I had to have a tracheostomy, and I had to have a feeding tube placed,” said Dr. Graham.

He developed pneumonia, and also had to have dialysis.

Things weren’t looking good.

“As a clinician from the outside looking in, if I’d been looking at my case I would have said probably a 30 percent chance of survival,” said Dr. Graham.

Tammy Graham also tested positive for the virus.

She says her symptoms only lasted about four days.

“They’re looking to find out the risk factors for people to have severe disease,” said Doctor Graham. “They’re thinking people with lung disease, other medical illnesses, diabetes...those people are more at risk to have more severe disease.”

Doctor Graham says he has diabetes, which he believes could have been one of the triggers for him to have severe problems fighting the virus.

One of the hardest parts for his wife, and the rest of his family, was not being able to be at the hospital with him.

“It was very difficult, especially when things weren’t going well to not be able to be there, hold his hand and talk to him,” said Tammy Graham.

Things did get better.

He came off the ventilator, and started the recovery process.

“When I first went to rehab I couldn’t even stand on my own, I had to have someone help me stand up,” said Doctor Graham.

After 49 days in the hospital, Doctor Graham was released to go home.

“We were beyond excited,” said Tammy Graham.

As he walked out on his own, it was hard for the couple to contain their emotions.

“It was really hard not to just run and tackle him,” said Tammy as she laughed.

He’s not 100 percent just yet.

Doctor Graham lost more than 30 pounds, and is still pretty weak.

“I can do some things for a certain amount of time and then I have to stop and rest," said Doctor Graham. "Sometimes that fatigue can last all day.”

So, he’s taking it one step, and one day at a time.

“I think it helped me to refocus on what was important and keep my faith strong,” said Doctor Graham.

His family cannot thank the community enough for their support.

“There aren’t words,” said Tammy Graham. “I mean I wouldn’t have gotten through it without them. It meant the world to me.”

The couple also can’t say enough good things about the care Doctor Graham received while at Saint Francis Medical Center.

“I don’t think I could have gotten better care anywhere else, the medical staff was amazing,” said Doctor Graham.

Doctor Graham isn’t ready to go back to work just yet, but is looking forward to using his experience to help others.

“I have a new understanding for the patients that come in and are short of breath and need relief,” said Dr. Graham.

While some might see this as a setback, Dr. Graham sees opportunity.

“I want to be a better person, better physician, and a better husband,” said Dr. Graham.

Doctor Graham does hope that everyone remembers his story and understands how serious the virus can be.

He encourages all of us to continue to follow CDC guidelines.

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