The moment before Representative David Byrd was put under, he realized it might be the last he’d ever see of this world. From a COVID-19 intensive care bed at Saint Thomas Hospital in December, terror came over him at the thought.
He has no memory of the next 55 days, when Byrd’s family knew they might begin planning a funeral as he remained on a ventilator and continued to become sicker.
At the time of his hospital stay, receiving antibody therapy wasn’t an option for the 63-year-old.
For all but two weeks in April, Byrd spent eight months in hospitals and at a rehab center, a recovery period he describes as brutal and lonely, when his frame withered to bones and he couldn’t walk, use his arms or do much for himself.
He missed the entire legislative session, which lasted from January to May and included numerous efforts by Tennessee Republicans to restrict the ability of government, and in some cases businesses, to enact public health precautions.
Months before, Byrd had joined Republican colleagues in voting for a resolution saying news media had “sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of political agendas.”
During his recovery this year, Byrd’s liver began to fail, resulting in jaundice and a diagnosis of covid cholangiopathy, and ultimately the need for a liver transplant June 12.
After nearly dying, Byrd is back home, and he has a message: It’s foolish to think COVID-19 will only wreak havoc on people believed to be high risk, a category in which Byrd did not previously place himself.
“I hope that by sharing my experience it helps others to act against an enemy that knows no skin color, economic status or political affiliation,” Byrd said in a statement to The Tennessean on Friday.
Byrd was sworn in to the 112th General Assembly last Friday morning, since he was unable to take the oath with his colleagues in January.
The rural, conservative former teacher and principal said he understands people who are hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
The shot wasn’t available before Byrd was diagnosed with the virus the day before Thanksgiving — a day after he and fellow House Republicans, including some anti-maskers, gathered at the Capitol to elect new caucus leadership. Days before that meeting, the caucus also held a multi-night retreat.
“To them, I would say covid is real and it is very dangerous,” Byrd said of vaccine skeptics. “It is a disease that wants to kill us. Please take it seriously. Please consider getting vaccinated. This is an issue that should not divide us.”
“I am not looking backward, but rather focusing on today,” Byrd said. “I am not deserving of God’s grace in receiving this miracle.”
Byrd also said he is full of gratitude for the care he received at Wayne Medical Center, St. Thomas Hospital, Tennessee Select, West Tennessee Health Care, Vanderbilt Medical Center and Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital.
He was “spared by the grace of God and these gifted medical professionals,” Byrd said. “Life is a miraculous gift that I am humbled beyond all odds and explanation to receive a second chance at living.”
by Natalie Allison, The Nashville Tennessean