BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The longest patient hospitalized for COVID-19 at UAB Hospital is finally getting to go home.
After 187 days as a patient, medevac helicopter pilot Ricky Hamm will return home for the first time. He was originally admitted to the hospital on January 10, 2021.
“We live in a rural area, and I always wore a mask and kept my distance when going to town,” said Hamm. “A bunch of us went to get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, but I must have already had the virus.”
Hamm, who has been performing medical flights for UAB for the last 17 years and was also a medical officer in the U.S. Army, stated he had no idea where he contracted the virus.
He said he began to feel ill on January 5, and just five days later, he checked into the hospital with severe breathing issues. Physicians stated he was not a good candidate for a ventilator, and instead turned to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a procedure that involved removing a patient’s blood to filter out carbon dioxide and add oxygen.
Hamm underwent ECMO for 147 days, and will remain on supplemental oxygen after being discharged. He also suffered hearing loss during his battle with the virus, and will use a CPAP machine when he sleeps.
“He had a lot of support from family and friends,” said Hamm’s wife, Shannon. “We were not sure how it was going to go at first. He was basically out of it for about four months. Once he woke up and joined the fight, things got a lot better. Then we knew he was going to make it.”
Hamm was formally discharged from UAB on July 16. On his walk out of the facility, he was greeted with celebratory messages from staff members and members of the EMS community, along with a blue-light escort from local authorities.
“I believe in the vaccine,” Hamm concluded. “I believe I already had the virus before I got the vaccine, before it could work to protect me. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I went through.”
Hamm is 50 years old, and missed his birthday last year due to the pandemic. This year, they will celebrate his homecoming and his birthday in one big swing – as he arrives home one day before his 51st birthday.