By Ben Schooley
Not many people had a more difficult year than Mr. Brandon Nation and his wife, Amy. In the middle of the icestorms of February, Brandon came down with COVID, felt pretty crummy, and thought he would have a weekend of feeling not so hot. However, the newlyweds had no idea of the journey that laid ahead, the trials they would endure, and ultimately, the restoration and wisdom they would gain. It all came at a steep price as they endured more than they could ever imagine in the coming months.
Over Super Bowl weekend of 2021, Amy didn’t feel great, which was a little odd for her. She begins, “I believe the boys brought it home from school – one had headaches, one had coughs. We saw that they weren’t feeling great and we ended up with this cough that lasted forever. I woke up and realized I didn’t feel good and realizing that wasn’t normal for me. Monday I felt bad, Wednesday I knew it wasn’t normal, I got tested, but it was negative. Figured it was allergies. Sunday we had a super bowl party, and Brandon felt bad and we tested him and he came back positive. Brandon continues, “I felt crummy for a few days, a few days where I felt better, and then that next day I just went straight downhill and collapsed waking up in the middle of the night. My oxygen dropped low and we knew something was up.”
After consulting with family and friends, Brandon was encouraged to brave the weather and get to the hospital. He was given oxygen, his levels increased, he was taken off oxygen, they fell. Ultimately it was decided for him to be admitted to the hospital.
Brandon, confident that he would simply improve quickly and resume his life, remained positive. While the doctors expressed to Brandon that his lung x-rays “didn’t look great”, he explains that there was always another idea for treatment, so he had no cause for alarm. Amy, on the other hand, began to get anxious. “The doctors wouldn’t project much – I asked every question – they had seen such a range of outcomes, so they had no NORMAL – I would ask if this was all normal and they would just sort of push it out with “It’s a slow process” type stuff and I got more and more scared.”
And it did get worse.
On February 28, approximately two weeks after admittance, the decision was made to intubate Brandon. Brandon explains, “They handed me the phone and said “Here is your wife”. There were like 15 people in the room. They had me flipped over on my side and I’m trying to reassure her – and I just kept telling her that I love you and after that, I don’t remember much.”
Strangely, Brandon did not respond to the sedation so he was awake the entire time. “I’m sending texts to people and I’m feeling fairly good but I’ve got this huge hunk of equipment going down my throat. I guess I’ve got a pretty good ability to block things out and just deal with things, but it was intense. At this point, it’s a battle to breathe. ALL THE TIME. There were days where I didn’t sleep more than 10 or 20 minutes at a time.
Struggling to breathe. It’s like when you run a mile and you’re gassed and you’re sucking wind, and well, that’s my life for weeks. It was exhausting. The nights were brutal. Amy printed out a bunch of signs and pictures and hung them in my room and I would just look at them and repeat them. ‘God let me feel your presence’ was my prayer. Thinking about the kids. I would just stare at them and just beg for healing. For relief.”
Amy continues, “it was up and down for the next month. One day was improvement in one thing, and deterioration in another. One thing would heal; one thing would fall apart. I’m trying to work in the evenings, help him during the day, pray pray pray, and there was just a roller coaster of things that would pop up. As soon as we beat one thing, he had another thing to fight. I had to make 9 phone calls to get him the plasma for the initial covid treatment. I advocated for him so hard. It was an endless trail of chasing people down to try to make sure he was getting the best that he could. He was fighting for his own life and for his own breaths…and so I wanted to fight for HIM in this system.”
On April 4, 2020, Brandon flatlined for the first time.
Amy explains, “His pressure was dropping, and they felt it was due to his heart failing. It was his right ventricle which is what pushes the blood. They told me that this was happening and they had a plan and they were going to put in a line to bypass the right ventricle. It’s pushing blood into his body and doing the job of the heart and give it a break. The procedure went ok, I was told. I fell asleep with music on, and I just bawled and bawled and I was trembling and I tuned into these words in the song I was listening to: “Fear is a liar”. The next morning I went in and he was improved and that sustained him. They just nonchalantly said that he had coded for 3 minutes and his heart fully stopped. While they were putting the line in and his heart stopped. He was ok at that point, so I sort of just said “Ok, well, that happened”.
Brandon continues, “I don’t remember my heart stopping, but I do remember the times when a team of people enter the room to start working on me. Hands on me, shouting, urgency. Normally it’s very casual, so I remember the urgency. I remember people rushing around, and then they knocked me out, and I wake and I’ve got new hoses on me but I’m in another world. I just accept what’s happening and I’m still in that process of just surviving.”
While Brandon continued to convince himself that this nightmare would conclude soon, and while Amy continued to advocate for him, Brandon’s body continued to atrophy and the smallest movements, like sitting on the side of the bed, became major obstacles. And, as his body weakened, the disease was continuing to ravage his body.
Brandon flatlined again on May 5. This time for 9 full minutes, scaring the doctors that brain damage would be a real possibility.
Amy, choking up a little, continues. “I got a call in the middle of the night. Everything seems to happen then. I have PTSD when my phone rings to this day. Dr. “T” calls – he’s the calmest and sweet mild mannered man – he says “Amy, Brandon’s pressures are dropping throughout the night and we’re doing all the things we can to bring them back up and I need you to come here quickly.” What do you mean? “We’re not able to bring his pressures back up, so I need you to get here quick.” Shaking like a leaf and not knowing how to get dressed or put myself together – and I left. I sat down for a minute and I screamed at God “THIS IS NOT WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT! This is not what I’ve believed, I’ve trusted you, and you CANNOT take him from me!” and I felt disrespectful but I did it anyway. I drove to the hospital and as I was passing The Rim and the doctor called back and said they had a plan. The lead ECMO doctor was on his way, and would put another line in Brandon to bypass his failing heart. He was calm and I could tell there was now a solution. Hung up, and immediately Brandon’s heart stopped for 9 minutes. During that time the MD specialist arrived and he fought for Brandon. He was totally flatlined and they were doing CPR and the MD could have just said ‘Let him go’, but he didn’t. He put the line in, I arrived, and there are the grimmest faces I’ve ever seen – must have been 25 people in his room. Nobody would look at me. Everybody was so somber.”
Amy, finally entering Brandon’s room, understood the urgency on the faces. “They start cleaning up and tapering out of the room and the MD that did the procedure came out and said ‘After I hung up with you, his heart stopped and he was out for a while’. They did not know how he was going to come out of this – whether the trauma on the body was too much, potential brain damage, how his body would recover. I asked ‘How will we know? When’? I walked in there and Brandon looked absolutely horrible. I couldn’t even look at him like that for more than a few seconds. I knelt down on the floor, and I held his hand and I begged for his life and for his restoration. I stood up, closed his eyes for him, as they were sort of half open, held his arm, and his hands…and his eyes quivered a little bit.”
Amy explains, “He woke up that moment and the docs did not expect that at all, and he was looking off in the distance, and I asked him if he could see me. And he said NO which scared me but that was an answer! I grabbed his glasses and asked again and he said YES. I threw the door open grabbed the MD and said ‘HE RESPONDED TO ME’ and the staff went nuts with excitement. He had beaten the odds again.”
Brandon’s recollection is fuzzy, yet detailed. He explains, “That was the night that was my God moment. I had this super weird understanding of people in my dream or whatever visiting me. I remember begging God, because I couldn’t tell if I was alive or not, I didn’t know – and I just said ‘God, if I’m dead then let me go and let me know that I’m gone’…it was the weirdest thing. It was the strangest thing – I didn’t feel like I was in my body anymore but I could see faces just passing my periphery and there was one nurse and he had blue hair…and I remember him coming in and I asked him ‘Am I alive’? It was always dark in the hospital so it felt like nighttime, so I don’t remember much until apparently it was the next evening. I would ask Amy what happened, and then I would fall back asleep, and I would wake up later and ask Amy again ‘AM I DEAD’? And she would answer me, I’d wake up later and ask again.”
Brandon is still living day over day in a form of disbelief that he is in his current agony. Unable to move on his own, he’s now completely dependent on others, which frustrates the proud man. He continues, “They had a TV in front of me. They’d put on a show and I’d just disappear mentally. I’d go to the location that was shown on the TV. It was my escape. It was a way to get away from the pain and everything that was going on and I could focus on something else besides what’s going on in this room. It was the best I could do.”
Physical therapy is now a daily chore for Brandon in an effort to keep his muscles operating, and it’s now taking 4 nurses a full 30 minutes to get him to sit on the side of the bed for 60 seconds before Brandon’s body would give out.”
Ultimately, despite Brandon’s assertions that his condition would never deteriorate to this level, his doctors finally said “Brandon, it’s lung transplant or die.”
He says, “My reaction wasn’t what I thought it would be, it just became a goal for me as I had to get stronger for me to actually go for the transplant. I flew to Florida finally, transferred by ambulance and then medical Leer jet to the country’s top transplant hospital. I was there for a full 3 weeks as I had to qualify for the surgery.”
Finally, a match was found for Brandon and the day had arrived.
He explains, “It’s a normal day, just like every other damn day in the hospital, and they came in and said ‘We’ve got a set for you’. It’s gonna happen. Just hang tight. I’m terrified. It’s a massive surgery and they’re about to tear me open. It’s exciting because this is what we’ve been waiting for, but now it’s the fear of the unknown. How horrible is this going to be? Will I make it through it? To be honest I wasn’t nervous or anxious until I went into the OR. There’s these huge lights and there’s so many people and there’s so many machines and it’s like ‘SHIT – they’re about to really tear me apart and I don’t know what’s on the other side’. You get nervous and I worked for a long time with my anxiety and trying to work through my struggles, and I had been working real hard on calming myself. I’m a pretty low key person but this was intense for me.”
As for Amy, she was strong. “I was calm. We had dealt with this for so long that it was relief, and it was a step out of the every day same thing we had done. Our day is here. He’s going to be able to breathe. FINALLY.”
Brandon’s surgery went flawless, and he recounts his first few moments in recovery. “There wasn’t a lot different when I woke up. I’m still here. I expected to be fine, I refused to ever believe this was going to kill me, so I woke up and was like ‘Ok, how bad is this going to hurt? Now what’? They made me stand up the very first day and I walked and you know what? I felt GREAT. I had all this swelling in my knee and they got me up that day and I walked the hallways. It was unreal. I was frustrated because my knee hurt which made me stop, but I was irritated because I wanted to keep going.”
For the next 2 months, Brandon recovered, healed and regained his strength. Ultimately, he was released. Amy pulled the car up to the front of the hospital to pick up Brandon, they went back to her donated property she had been staying at throughout, and spent the next 3-plus weeks healing before being released to return to Texas on October 1.
Today, Brandon’s lung function has fully returned, though his body has not fully recovered its strength, but it’s progressing day over day. He has a slew of medications to ensure his body does not reject the lungs, and they have worries of germs and bacteria that none of us “normal” folks need to worry themselves about, but the Nations will gladly take their situation.
When asked what Brandon learned from his journey, he chokes up a little. “It’s a cliché, but the family and friends that we all have are all that really matters. Everybody says that, but you’ll never ever understand it until you go through something like we did. There are worries and things that we deal with day over day just like a normal family does, but man, none of those things matter. There’s so much more to life than the little petty crap and to get the 2nd chance to come back and do life is huge. The important things are the ones all around you – your family – when you’re DYING, they are the ones that are there. The people that helped Amy and kept our home working, those people are forever in my heart. That’s the biggest thing – perspective for me is that the little things in life, the little petty crap…I assure you it’s not worth it.”
Amy agrees, and adds that her faith was vital throughout. “God was my lifeline. I know for a fact that without our faith, we never ever would have made it. The constant patience required, the attentiveness, the feeling of being moved with peace when I begged for it was absolutely vital. There were days I wasn’t fine because I was fed up and I wanted my husband back and I wanted him home, but whe I cried out, there was an answer every time. I would hit a rough spot, and I’d sing a song or I’d scream in my car and I got answers every single time typically in the form of pure peace rushing through my entire body. Going in to see him not knowing if he was having a great day or a horrible day or if he would be upset and ornery or if he would give me a smile….it was only faith that kept me moving forward in a direction. I’ve never been a person of devout and profound faith, but this situation absolutely made one out of me. You can never make it through something like this by yourself, and the more I asked the more I got. He wants us to lean on Him. And I most definitely did.”
From the front porch of their home here in Boerne, you’d never know what the two had endured. Amy’s children, Ben and Charley, and Brandon’s son, Dax have been able to have their parents back from the nightmare, and you can sense normalcy returning to their lives as Brandon develops more and more strength. He’s back to working from home with DXP, which is in the oil industry. Amy’s small business, Amy’s Card and Party Shop, is thriving and they are settling into new routines as they put the horrific memories further and further behind them.
When asked if they have anything they want to do to ultimately celebrate the closing of the chapter in their lives and perhaps go on an amazing trip or great family adventure, Brandon smiles and the simplicity of his answer is striking. He finishes, “You know, I want to get back to what I always did as a family and get back out on the boat at the lake or the coast. That’s it. Simple goals. Just getting back to a normal life is a great victory for me, and that’s all I really want. I can see how easily things can be taken away from you, so getting back to normal is everything for me. This was never expected; nobody saw this coming. It was a bad car wreck. It just happened and it was in slow-motion. To be pulled out of life for that long, and to be so close to losing that life, now that I’m back, all I want to do is simply reconnect back to what I had. The simple things. The beautiful things. The little things are what I want back because I fought so hard to get those things back. BIG things, extravagant things, are just things. I simply want those SIMPLE things. THAT is life.
Brandon’s Thank You Note:
I’d like to thank God, my wife, all our family, friends, and neighbors that helped in so many ways that were seen and unseen. My wife was by my side every single day and I could not have made it through without her. I’d like to thank all the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and support staff that all helped get me home. I would like to thank all the thousands of people all over the country that constantly prayed for us and continue to do so.
Amy’s Thank You Note:
So many family, friends, businesses and even strangers reached out to offer and provide support for me and the boys while Brandon was ill. From assistance with school pickup, organizing mail, doing yard work, to fundraising efforts providing financial gifts, to giving me a lovely place to live in Florida during that portion of the journey. Every single kind and generous act is appreciated with a magnitude that I just don’t have the proper words for. We are humbled to have become such a beautiful part of so many people’s daily thoughts and prayers. We thank every single one of you who prayed, asked others to pray, and put Brandon on your church prayer lists. The hundreds of cards that filled his room and now in a large, special box, will be saved and referenced throughout the rest of our lives. Facebook friends and family….your many words of encouragement kept me uplifted and empowered. They truly helped me face the intense struggles day by day. The love and support you provided gave me great relief from the physical and emotional demands I faced around the clock each and every day. It was through your prayer petitions (and mine) that God filled me with His Spirit daily which gave me peace and strength beyond all understanding.
Personal public recognition to some really special folks.
First of all we commend our three sons, who handled this tremendous life change incredibly well. Their co-parents had a lot more to handle for the better part of the year and we are so grateful for their extra efforts.
Roderick & Allison Pankratz for keeping up with our lawn and landscape
Hunt Family, Martinez Family, Carrier Family, Ryan Nation Family for their commitment to caring for our 4 dogs for 5 months
Jennifer Milton for her knowledgable coaching and guidance, especially as we transitioned into transplant for recovery
The GoFundMe response, and other personal financial gifts have been incredible and humbling. Thank you so much to all who contributed, it has helped immensely with ongoing expenses.
Special shout out to the following local businesses that really did some incredible and generous things for us. Level of services rendered varies, but the generosity of their time and kindness are equally appreciated. If you have any needs for the following, please give them your support:
My Favorite Service Company (full A/C services, air sanitization, etc)
Hill Country Scapes & Design, LLC (landscape design and remodeling)
Kendall County Roofing
Faith & Funky Junk Thrift Barn (donate or shop to support)
BB Texas Home Services (full service renovation & restoration)
Special thanks to my super-women, Gina & Gabe Lacey, and Kimmi & Kevin Manasco who stepped up and filled my shoes to the best of their abilities. They moved my entire business, Amy’s Card & Party Shoppe, LLC, for the first time in it’s 25 years from my at home location to a real office space…while I was in Florida. “My girls” roped in their husbands to help and really tackled the huge undertaking without me. I will be forever grateful for their dedication, time and efforts. They did an amazing job, and continued to work hard to fill my void. My newest full time super-woman Rosa Castro worked for me for about 4 months before I had the pleasure of meeting her. So very thankful for these special ladies!
We are forever indebted to the full staff at Main Methodist Hospital, UF Health Shands, and University Hospital. From front desk volunteers, techs, nurses, therapists, specialists, physicians, coordinators and environmental services staff. Every single role is respected and appreciated. The nurses became my family. At Methodist, Doctors Craig Ainsworth, Jeffrey DellaVolpe, Pavan Thangudu and Hitesh Gidwani all had Brandon’s life in their hands. I especially commend Dr. DellaVolpe. May 5th, he could have decided against a challenging, risky procedure when he arrived to find Brandon had coded, was unresponsive and undergoing CPR, but he did it anyways. If there is one single human being truly responsible for saving Brandon’s life, it’s him. He later fought terribly hard, for several weeks to get Brandon accepted for transfer to UF so that he had the best chance of surviving and receiving a life saving transplant. It is my belief that many, if not most of the staff did not expect to see Brandon survive this illness. Technically, his body didn’t. By the grace of God working through the physicians, HE IS ALIVE! Beginning in June at UF Health Shands in Florida, Doctors Tiago Machuca, Andres Palaez, Abbas Shahmohammadi, Amir Emtiazjoo, and others provided top notch care in their incredible facility, as they aided in building up Brandon’s health and strength in preparation for transplant, and ultimately executed a flawless surgery and continue to provide outstanding post transplant care. We were blown away by the nursing staff and physical/occupational therapy teams. So motivating, so kind, so caring. Our new care team at University Hospital has been wonderful, as well. They’ve taken us in like their own and in the transplant world that’s a tough one. There are just no words for the amount of respect, admiration, and gratefulness that we have for every person on these three teams. Thank you ALL!
Brandon and I both thank our wonderful parents John Nation, Sandra Nation, and Mark & Suzy Wilson for instilling the groundwork for our faith filled hearts. Without clinging to God and receiving His many responses as we cried out daily, I have no doubt this story would have ended differently. Faith & Family, what a blessing.
We’ve been touched by so very many, and are grateful for you all. Thank you. Again. And forevermore.