As a Milwaukee Municipal Court judge, Derek Mosley knows that for people in scary, life-changing situations, sometimes having a supportive advocate can make all the difference.

He experienced that personally in March when he became dangerously ill with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. His symptoms began with what seemed like an ordinary chest cold. But within a few days, climbing the stairs in his home made him breathless. He developed achy muscles and a dry cough, and he was often dizzy. He called his doctor at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network.

Derek, 49, connects with his medical team often. In 2016 he had a live donor kidney transplant at Froedtert Hospital, which involves regular follow-up appointments and testing. He also takes medication that suppresses his immune system to reduce the risk of organ rejection; however, it can increase his risk of infections. His doctor urged him to get a COVID-19 test immediately. When the results came back positive, the doctor instructed Derek to go to the Emergency Department at Froedtert Hospital.

His wife, Kelly, drove him there, but visitor restrictions due to the pandemic meant they had to say goodbye at the curb. Inside, doctors found that as a result of the coronavirus infection in his lungs, Derek’s blood oxygen level was too low. They admitted him to the COVID-19 unit, but when his condition worsened, he was transferred to the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for a higher level of care. His team also moved him onto his stomach, a position shown to help patients breathe more easily.

A Turning Point

In the ICU, Derek remained very sick. Paul Bergl, MD, critical care physician and MCW faculty member, leveled with him: Derek had reached a point in the illness when some patients decline to the point they must be intubated, which involves having a tube inserted in the throat to help with breathing. He would be sedated and unable to talk, a scenario that alarmed Derek.

When his nurse, Christin Lissmann, MSN, RN, began her shift that night, she was concerned by what she observed.

“I put my stethoscope on his chest and could hardly hear anything,” she said. Very little air was moving in and out of his lungs. She contacted Derek’s wife and set up a video call so Kelly and the couple’s daughters, Kallan, 15, and Kieran, 12, could talk with Derek before his condition deteriorated.

When Lissmann brought the screen to Derek, he was delighted. He loved seeing his wife and daughters and their dog. “It was actually very moving,” he said. “We laughed, we cried. It was good.”

After the call, Derek began to pray and make a mental list of the things he needed to write down for his wife in case he didn’t survive.

“It’s an interesting exercise, contemplating your mortality and thinking about the people you’re leaving,” he said.

But then the door opened. It was Lissmann, who maneuvered around medical equipment so Derek could see her eyes through her protective goggles.

“She grabbed my hand and said, ‘You’re not alone. I’m going to be with you the entire evening. We’re going to fight this together,” Derek said.

Lissmann also told him that if he had to be intubated and was unable to speak, she would advocate for him. “Hearing her say those words made all the difference,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was alone.”

In the morning, Derek and Lissmann celebrated that he was still breathing on his own.

Caring for the Sickest Patients 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Froedtert & MCW health network is providing comprehensive, state-of-the-art care for the sickest patients, including those with conditions that can complicate the course of the disease.

At Froedtert Hospital, eastern Wisconsin’s only academic medical center, experts use technologies designed to treat people critically ill with the coronavirus, such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, also called ECMO, which pumps and oxygenates blood outside the body so the lungs can rest and heal. Staff gathers the latest information from around the world about the best ways to treat this novel virus, and researchers participate in studies of medication and other emerging treatments.

“The Froedtert & MCW health network provides innovative science and timeless, compassionate care for patients,” Dr. Bergl said.

Derek improved and was discharged in early April. He wrote a Facebook post about the joy of waking up in his own bed and hearing his family chattering in the house. He expressed gratitude for Lissmann and her colleagues, who gave him hope when he felt hopeless.

“The staff genuinely cares about your well-being,” he said. “They all advocated for me and that helped me get better.

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