JONES CO., Miss. (WLBT) - January 15 is a fresh, new day for a small-town fire chief with a huge impact on his community.
David Houston is relieved to have air to breathe after 31 days inside of Central Regional Medical Center, 12 of which were spent on a ventilator, with a feeding tube, in total isolation.
“I call it the COVID jail,” Houston said. “It’s a negative pressure room so the virus doesn’t get out in the hospital. The room was sealed. All I could see was a 12-inch fan that sucks the pressure out the room... every time they come in, they’re in spacesuits,” he recalled.
The 21-year fire veteran has led the Shady Grove Volunteer Fire Rescue for seven years. He’s also an EMT for Pafford Medical Services.
Houston said the ordeal started on a holiday in 2020.
“I worked Thanksgiving and came back home and started coughing the next day,” Houston said.
After the holiday weekend, Houston said he went to the hospital to get tested as a precaution.
“They said you’re positive. I was shocked, but I came back home, got in a different room from my wife, started running a fever, went back to the hospital and they put me on the COVID floor,” he said.
David’s symptoms escalated.
Doctors said he had pneumonia on both lungs, and while normal blood oxygen saturation is between 95% and 100%, David’s levels hovered in the 70s.
“I was knocking on death’s door and I was just out of it. I thought I had been sleeping one night. I didn’t even know where I was,” Houston said.
Unaware of reality, Houston had no idea what was happening outside his window, in the hospital parking lot.
A close-knit group of first responders in Jones County organized a prayer vigil they dubbed, “Light up the night.”
“He’s an integral part of our community, in Shady Grove and the surrounding firefighting community in Jones County,” Dana Bumgardner, Public Information Officer, Jones County Fire Council said.
Bumgardner said it was easy for the community to come together because of who Houston is.
“His whole life is giving,” Bumgardner said. “His employment and spare time are all about giving and he’s just kind of remarkable.”
Bumgardner said Houston and his wife Patsy have spearheaded charity work to help families in need and the chief has personally helped the volunteer fire rescue to get grants to remain open. They also delivered food, supplies and helped the community rebuild after the deadly Easter tornado that killed 14 people.
While Houston was in the hospital, the community organized several fundraisers including a motorcycle ride, a t-shirt fundraiser, and financial donations from other fire departments and individuals. David’s daughters also started a Go Fund Me to help with medical expenses.
Suddenly one day, David woke up and talked to his wife, who told him just how much his community had given back to him.
“It was overwhelming,” David’s wife, Patsy Houston said. “I had no idea it would reach that many people.”
“It felt good... real good,” David added.
After he was released from the COVID-19 floor, David spent weeks inside Choctaw Regional Medical Center gaining muscle strength before finally coming home.
“I’m 90% better, still on oxygen, still really weak, have to use a walker to get around, but the medical staff and rehab treated me like a king and because of that I’m home,” David said.
David said many people in his ICU never made it out, so despite losing 30 pounds, lots of muscle mass, and time away from his family, he couldn’t be more excited to get back to doing what he does best.
“Yes ma’am. No doubt. No doubt,” he said.
“When something happens, we don’t even ask questions, we just get up and go and we just want to get back to that point,” Mrs. Houston said.