Blue Ridge, Georgia, police chief leaves hospital after more than three months there fighting COVID-19

Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce. Photo contributed.
Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce. Photo contributed.

During Blue Ridge, Georgia, police Chief Johnny Scearce's three-month stint at CHI Memorial Hospital due to COVID-19 he had his 60th birthday, underwent countless medical interventions and won his contested election bid.

Scearce, who was under varying levels of sedation during his hospitalization, was discharged on Jan. 14. He began rehabilitation the next day, a feat his wife Brenda said was nothing short of a miracle.

"[Seeing him be discharged] was just amazing just knowing everything he'd been through and how far he'd come," she said. "Nobody can take that away. He is a miracle, and I know it. We know it. Everybody at Memorial knows it and it was just seeing God work like that it was just, I'll never forget it."

While Brenda Scearce said she and their kids were just focused on her husband getting better, for the chief his 2020 Fannin County commissioner campaign was an important part of his life before being hospitalized.

And when she got the news that he had won, she sat at his bedside, further encouraging him to pull through.

"He was heavily sedated at the time and I'm like, "you've got to wake up," she said. "I've got to tell you, you won this crazy election.'"

Johnny Scearce's severe illness and pneumonia had come as sort of a surprise, Brenda Scearce said, as he was very active and "full of life," participating in golfing, softball and other sports in his free time. He also had no previous underlying conditions.

At various points of his stay, the hospital team had little hope for his prognosis, said Dr. Jesse Tucker, medical director of critical care at CHI Memorial. But the case was unlike any Tucker and his colleagues had seen in the months of working with COVID-19 patients.

"It was just very gratifying for all of us to see him get better," Tucker said. "It makes us feel really good about what we do. It makes us feel good about being able to help somebody and their family out in the community."

"His family really rallied for him, and so much of the credit goes to the chief and his emotional and physical strength, as well as the dedication of his family members."

photo Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce. Photo contributed.

While at times Johnny Scearce went through bouts of getting worse and then getting better, a prolonged stay generally doesn't bode well for patients. It was even recommended at one time that a lung transplant be considered for him.

But with interventions such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a special form of life support in which a machine removes and oxygenates the blood while the lungs are able to rest, and other therapies, Johnny was able to regain much of his lost function.

"To our knowledge, this is by far the longest we've ever had somebody on that particular support treatment. And then survived to leave the hospital with a really, really good functional status, I might add," Tucker said, adding that "it's pretty uncommon anywhere for somebody to be as sick as he was."

Doctors also told Brenda Scearce that her husband's strong heart likely made a difference.

"One thing that did help him get through all this was he had a good heart," she said. "A lot of people don't come off [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation] because of their heart, you know. We sat there and watched many people die."

During the difficult journey, Brenda said she was just grateful to be by his side for a few hours each day, a luxury as many hospitals have adopted rules that limit family access due to the pandemic.

"Just talking to him, even when he was heavily sedated or when they start lifting the sedation, getting to be there and let him know that I was there meant the world to me, and it's really horrible that at least one family member can't be with some of these people [who are hospitalized]," she said.

It was also hard at times to accept help, but Brenda Scearce said her community prayed with her, paid for hotel rooms and took care of her to the point where she wanted for next to nothing except to see her husband get better.

Prayers and support from friends, family and community members across the state and on social media poured in for the family for months.

"We've always been people that tried to always pray just 'God give us our health, let us keep our jobs where we can help other people,'" she said, "and the hardest thing is to learn to accept help when you're used to being so independent and being the one to want to give help."

And now that Johnny Scearce is out of the hospital, in six months, Brenda would like to see her husband on a golf course again. She said he also is awaiting the day when he can be sworn in and return to work, although it may take some time to finish rehabilitation.

"He's a little nervous right now about everything," she said. "You know it's scary to him. He's been aware of it now for quite a few weeks and having to adjust to the change, [while] we've been dealing with it for months and watching the progress.

"He's scared about the future, but he has faith and he believes that he wouldn't be here if God didn't have his reasons."

One of Brenda Scearce's biggest pleas after watching her husband in the hospital for more than 90 days is that those in the community stay vigilant against the virus and remember to wear their masks, wash their hands and just stick it out until the vaccine is widely available.

She thinks it may just save lives.

"Just wait a little longer for that big gathering that you want to go to and you want to have," she said. "Protect your loved ones, your grandparents, your cousin that might have a kidney disease that you don't even know about, you know, and just be patient. [The vaccine is] here. Just give it a little more time and everybody's life can get back to normal."

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