Former COVID patient celebrates recovery with medical staff

Published 6:23 am Sunday, June 27, 2021

Johnny Woodard could feel his life slowly slipping away.

In November of 2020, the Horse Cave resident was admitted to The Medical Center at Bowling Green with a severe case of COVID-19.

A few months into his battle with the virus, Woodard’s health took a turn for the worse. The 50-year-old was on a ventilator and had undergone numerous surgeries.

He was beginning to lose hope.

That’s when his physician, Dr. Ghayth Hammad, made a promise to his patient while his medical team surrounded his hospital bed.

“I looked him right in the eyes and told him right then not only was he going to beat COVID, but that we were going to get a beer together when it was all over,” Hammad said.

After a battle spanning seven months, Woodard, once again surrounded by his nurses and physicians, was able to see Hammad’s promise come to fruition last Friday afternoon at Pub by Novo in Bowling Green.

He had finally defeated the deadly virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans.

The group lifted their drinks in celebration and toasted to Woodard’s health. He then joyfully took a sip from a cold beer for the first time in months.

“This is my smile,” Woodard said with a large, thankful grin. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a beer. God is just so good.”

Seated on each side of Woodard were the two people who spent the most time by his side through his fight — Hammad and Med Center Health Clinic Manager Tracy Metzger.

“I’m just so grateful for them. They took care of me,” Woodard said. “It was so difficult every day. These two helped me every step of the way. And the grace of God really got me through it as well.”

Hammad said Woodard lost over 150 pounds throughout his battle. He also had to undergo a tracheotomy and was fed by a feeding tube while also being placed on a ventilator.

But despite the many bad days, there were still several occasions when Woodard’s vibrant persona shined through.

“Johnny’s personality is bigger than life,” Metzger said. “He always had a joke for us. He loves to rile up everybody and stir the pot. We had a lot of fun with him. But at the same time, we took care of him and we wiped his tears.”

Metzger says she will never forget the day Hammad made his promise. It was that moment that changed the course of Woodard’s health.

“This is definitely a long-standing lunch date. I really didn’t know if he would make it,” she said. “To see him breathing on his own is a miracle. It’s remarkable to see him today and to hear his voice. It gives me cold chills.”

Woodard’s impact was not only felt by Metzger but by Hammad, who called his recovery an “inspiration” for everyone at The Med Center.

“He is just a normal, average guy who happens to have a big heart,” Hammad said. “Even with all the frustration he had to go through, he responded very well to encouragement.”

Hammad is an independent physician from Morgantown who assisted with the Med Center’s response to the pandemic.

After serving the region for the past 22 years, Hammad hopes Woodard’s story can bring encouragement to COVID-19 patients and anyone else going through a hard time due to the pandemic.
“I think it shows that you should not give up, and hard work pays off,” Hammad said. “It takes a lot of hard work to get through what he did. Even though we had a lot of setbacks and failures, we were patient and we worked as team. We achieved something through teamwork.”

While he can safely go back out in public, Woodard is still rehabbing and recovering from his months-long fight.

And while there is still work to be done, the patient with a big heart now has hope for the days ahead.
“I wouldn’t know what to tell people, but I made it,” Woodard said of his journey. “You just got to believe in yourself.”