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Making Us Proud — By Tommy Purser

There was a wonderful article on the front page of one of the recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution editions. An article that everyone in Jeff Davis County should be proud of. I wanted to reprint that article in the Ledger, to let everyone in Jeff Davis County and beyond see what good journalism is all about. Alas, when trying to get permission for the reprint, I discovered there were all kinds of hoops I needed to jump through.
I am too old to jump through hoops, literally and figuratively. So, I gave up.
There was a time when I could just pick up the phone and call one of my friends at the AJC and ask permission and they’d see to it that the permission was granted. But that was a long time ago. Everyone I used to know at the AJC has either died or retired.
Today, I don’t know anyone there.
The article shared with AJC readers the work of Hazlehurst’s Dr. Jason Laney and Jeff Davis Hospital in fighting to save the life of Jeff Davis High School Principal Greer Smith, who was stricken with a severe case of COVID-19.
It detailed how Dr. Laney and nurses at Jeff Davis Hospital called scores of hospitals to find a bed where Smith could be treated with an artificial lung machine called ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation). But across the southeast, most beds with ECMO machines were already filled.
Saving one patient’s life, in this case Smith’s, involved dozens of caregivers working around the clock — not for hours, or for days, but for weeks.
When Smith showed up at Jeff Davis Hospital in July, he was in more trouble than he knew. Laney quickly became convinced the principal was in grave danger.
He put him on an oxygen pump but that didn’t help. Laney decided Smith was more likely to die than not if he couldn’t get on an ECMO that lets the lungs rest and heal. The machine acts for the lungs, filtering blood, putting in oxygen, and pumping it back to the body. Laney felt that if Smith stayed in Hazlehurst, he might have a 30% chance of living.
The hospital had already done all it could and more to treat the surge of patients suffering from COVID. Hospital CEO Barry Bloom hunted desperately for equipment. He drove 150 miles in his car to borrow a ventilator. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone that far.
And Laney, too, had been going the extra mile. As beds fill up, he shut down his regular hours and took over all shifts in the ICU. Many nights, he slept only three or four hours.
Laney got on Google and searched for “ecmo availability.” Then he and staff called doctors in hopes the calls might be when a patient had been discharged and the bed unfilled.
Laney called Northside Hospital. Dr. Allison Dupont said she thought she had a bed but then said “no.” But Laney didn’t take no for an answer. In tearful pleadings, Dr. Dupont reconsidered, in tears herself. “We’ll take him, we’ll take him.” ECMO at Northside saved Smith. He spent 20 days there.
Two nurses cared for him around the clock. When Smith came out of his coma, he was able to sit up and stand. The Northside staff erupted in a cheer.
Within weeks, Smith was back at Jeff Davis High.
Smith considers what happened to him a miracle. He and his wife, Stephanie, are trying to repay the doctors and nurses by encouraging people to get vaccinated. They had chosen not to get vaccinated, because they were young and healthy. They’ve changed their minds.

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