PORT JEFFERSON, NY — Seated in a wheelchair, Timothy Heaton clasped his newborn granddaughter on his lap as he was wheeled out of St. Charles Hospital on Tuesday after a 156-day battle with COVID-19.
Just before the doors, granddaughter Hailey was taken from his arms and he was able to stand with the help of a walker as a crowd of friends and supporters greeted him to rousing applause. The first thing the Roman Catholic did was place his hands to his lips, kiss his fingers and then raise them to the sky in thanks.
“St. Jude,” called out Heaton, thanking the patron saint of lost causes — St. Jude Thaddeus — who is often credited by followers for helping people out of seemingly impossible situations.
Others in the crowd responded, praising his recovery.
Heaton, as he continued to walk, told his friends, “I’ll see you at the beach.”
At a brief news conference, Heaton and his family described his recovery as nothing short of miraculous, and they thanked friends and supporters for their prayers.
Heaton, a Medford resident, was about to retire after 25 years as a corrections officer at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead, but two weeks before his retirement date, he was diagnosed with “a severe case of COVID-19,” the Suffolk sheriff’s office said.
Heaton was sent to Stony Brook University Hospital for complications associated with the virus — including pneumonia, deep-vein thrombosis in both of his legs, and a pulmonary embolism — and his kidneys had shut down, signaling he required dialysis treatment on Sept .26.
From there, Heaton was placed in a medically induced coma, and his family was told three times to gather at his bedside to say their goodbyes. But he fought back each time.
“We were told multiple times to come and say our goodbyes,” said his daughter Julie. “They told us there was nothing else they could do, and my family even accepted it. We thought that we just wanted him to be at peace.”
He needed a tracheotomy on Nov. 11; and when his kidneys were not functioning, again, he couldn’t move his legs and arms. Yet he kept progressing, slowly but surely.
“He was a really nice guy, first and foremost,” said Heaton’s occupational therapist, Laura Vaughn. “You could tell he wanted to work hard. He was eager to get back, especially to see that baby.”
His physical therapist, Bill Cunningham, said Heaton was always so motivated.
“He always had such a strong faith that he was going to get better,” he added.
Heaton began to get his movement back and was discharged from Stony Brook and brought to St. Charles Hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation unit on Feb. 11. At the time, he could not walk 5 feet and had to relearn physical and occupational tasks again.
He can now walk over 100 feet without an oxygen machine.
In hindsight, Heaton said that he would have gotten vaccinated if he knew what lay before him.