Family helps COVID survivor pull through

Charlie Murphey tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 12. Four days later, his family learned he might not survive. He has, though, and gives credit to the network of support from his family.

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May 7, 2021 - 1:15 PM

Charlie Murphey credits his family and the medical community for saving his life after contracting COVID-19. From left are Angie Turner, Ted and Teresa Murphey, Charlie Murphey and his girlfriend, Tia Brungardt. Not pictured is daughter Christie Rowe, who was at work Friday morning. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

In an ideal world, when a person falls ill, there’s a support system to help pull them through.

Charlie Murphey lives in that world.

On Jan. 12, he tested positive for COVID-19. Four days later, physicians warned his chances of survival were not good.

On Wednesday, this reporter visited with Charlie’s parents, Ed and Teresa Murphey, who told his story. 

That’s because their son has no memory of the experience because during much of his hospitalization he was heavily sedated.

Charlie works at Gates Manufacturing, where his position as a lead includes ensuring employees adhere to COVID-19 protocols, including wearing facemasks and taking their temperatures three times a day.

On Friday morning, Charlie said he doesn’t think he contracted the virus from work, although two other Gates employees, including his nephew, Shelton Reno, also tested positive the same day.

“I always wore my facemask wherever I went,” Charlie said. “In hindsight, I probably could have done better at washing my hands more frequently.”

The Murpheys’ daughter, Christie Rowe, also works at Gates as a supervisor.

Charlie Murphey spent a month at Wesley Medical Center after contracting COVID-19. Courtesy photo

A SCRATCHY throat was Charlie’s first symptom of catching the virus. Four days later, he needed his parents’ assistance to take him to the emergency room.

COVID-19 protocols prevented the Murpheys from going any farther with Charlie than the hospital entrance. The Murpheys soon learned that Charlie would be transferred to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. 

“They weren’t equipped to take care of him here,” Teresa said of Allen County’s hospital.

“We knew he was in bad shape,” she said. At Wesley, Charlie was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia. 

His first day at the hospital began auspiciously enough.

About noon, Charlie visited on the phone with his sister, Angie Turner, saying he was feeling “pretty good,” and could taste food.

“We thought that was a sign he was on the road to recovery,” Teresa said.

Four hours later, the hospital called the Murpheys to tell them their son had taken a sharp turn for the worse and that “he probably wasn’t going to make it.”

Charlie Murphey and his girlfriend, Tia BrungardtPhoto by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

“At best he would live two to three days. They told us that if he didn’t respond to treatment in a few days we should consider hospice,” Teresa said.

For the next three weeks, “it was touch-and-go.” 

He would be sedated, intubated and paralyzed a full 17 days.

His treatments included a procedure called proning, where the body is placed face down for 12-16 hours at a time to facilitate breathing. 

“They told us that if he didn’t respond to treatment in a few days we should consider hospice.”

-Teresa Murphey

“He was on 100% oxygen with a 70% saturation rate,” Teresa said. According to health care experts, our bloodstreams require at least a 90% oxygen saturation rate to operate efficiently.

By then, the lower section of Charlie’s left lung was compromised. Running out of options, physicians asked if they could perform a bronchoscopy, to drain the fluid off the lungs.

“We told them to do whatever you have to do,” she said.

The procedure was a turning point in Charlie’s recovery.

At age 41, Charlie has health issues that he realizes likely complicated his case of COVID-19.

Ed and Teresa MurpheyPhoto by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

Four years ago he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He has atrial fibrillation, a heart condition. And he’s obese.

Weighing in his favor, is a strong network of friends and family keeping in touch with Charlie and sending their support. Charlie also credits the care he received at Wesley followed by another month of rehabilitation at Select Specialty Hospital and Allen County Regional Hospital.

“They saved my life,” he said of the health professionals.

There was a time, however, when things got bleak. 

“He wasn’t responding as he should have,” Tia recalled.

An antidepressant was begun, and more importantly, family members were called to come visit — one at a time. 

“Please, tell people to get the shots. You just never know if it’s going to be you to get a bad case of COVID. If you’re lucky, it’s nothing. If you’re not, it could be a death sentence.”

-Teresa Murphey

Because Tia, his girlfriend of two-and-a-half years, lives in Wichita, she was the first allowed at his bedside. Teresa followed the next day. Then Ed the next.

“He didn’t have a clue what was going on, or probably that we were even there. But he knew things were serious. And he was scared. All hooked up to those machines, tears would well up in his eyes,” Ed said. 

Charlie’s recovery took two months, including learning how to walk and talk again. 

Gates Manufacturing held Charlie’s job for him. His first day back to work was April 5.

As far as residual effects from the virus, Charlie said a side of his head is tender, he periodically feels sharp pain in one hand and his tongue still feels numb. 

A recent visit to a pulmonologist declared his lungs healthy. 

THE ENTIRE Murphey family has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Please, tell people to get the shots,” Teresa begged. “You just never know if it’s going to be you to get a bad case of COVID. If you’re lucky, it’s nothing. If you’re not, it could be a death sentence.”

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