A 29-year-old man on life-saving machines misses the birth of his first baby, as he battles COVID-19

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

As his wife of 2 years, Jaclyn Shoemaker, brings a new life into the world, with the birth of their first-born baby, Grayson. Caleb is 152 miles away, in an Orlando hospital fighting for his own life on ECMO and a ventilator due to an infection with the novel Coronavirus.

Jaclyn (age 33) Deputy Sheriff and Grayson, (minutes old), Lehigh Acres, Florida, are shown above on September 1st, following the birth of Grayson. Missing is her 29-year-old husband, Caleb, who is in an Orlando hospital battling COVID-19.

OUR COVID-19 STORY: (Jaclyn and Caleb Shoemaker)

Our story began on July 9th, 2020, I noticed my husband Caleb was coughing a dry cough every so often and I asked if he was ok. He stated it was just a “tickle” and he was fine. We went about our day that day, without giving it much thought again, as we assumed it was summer allergies.

On July 10th, I went to work, while my husband had a day off from his job. at Satcom Marketing. He was employed in a call center for Spectrum Cable customers. When we spoke during the day and Caleb complained of being extra fatigued not feeling up to doing certain things for the house. It was very unlike him to say that he just wanted to rest. As the day went on, I remember him texting me stating he had the worst migraine that he ever experienced and that he was laid up in bed. I got home in the evening and he complained that he was also having GI issues and constantly running to the bathroom. I took his temperature which showed a low-grade fever of 99 degrees. It was that same evening, that he heard from a co-worker that they were positive for COVID-19 and my husband was advised to get tested immediately. Caleb went to the local ER in Lehigh and got swabbed for the Coronavirus and was placed on IV fluids, had a chest X-ray completed, as well as other lab tests. He was discharged and told he would have results within a couple of days and they told him that he was in no immediate danger and to go home and rest.

When he returned home that evening, he went straight to bed. He very quickly took a turn for the worse with a dry cough, and his fever spiking to 103. He was extremely nauseous and constantly battling diarrhea. His fever of 103 remained high all evening, without breaking.

The next day, on July 11th, I drove him to another local ER, at Gulf Coast Medical Center, where he was entered into triage and then released. Caleb texted me from the ER waiting room and told me his test result came back from the other hospital and showed positive for COVID-19. This was extremely difficult to hear due to the fact I was about 6 months pregnant with our first child. He came home after being treated with fluids and being put through another battery of tests and was told to quarantine and self-medicate for his symptoms. I had been already exposed technically but had to try and quarantine myself, so we separated: Caleb in our bedroom and me sleeping in the living room on the couch.

He became extremely sick with each day that passed and he became dehydrated after about 5 days of fighting a fever of 104 degrees coupled with the constant GI issues that he was experiencing. It was time for us to call an ambulance. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital close by and was treated for his high fever, along with being given IV fluids. Once again, the hospital cleared him to return home, due to him having no breathing issues, and he was told that he had clear lungs from the scans.

Less than 24 hours later, Caleb declined so fast his breathing became very labored and we had to face the fact he likely needed to be hospitalized. I again took him to Gulf Coast, where he was then admitted. He barely had any strength to walk into the ER and needed a nurse to wheel him inside. That was July 17th, 2020 and that would be the last time I would physically see my husband, until September 17th, 2020 (60 days exactly). He was admitted immediately to the ICU-Unit, due to his rapidly declining condition.

(This was the worst experience that we have ever gone through, as I was not allowed into the ICU due to being pregnant. I couldn't show support to my husband who was positive and in a COVID ICU unit) This was certainly not how we had planned our lives together when we got married almost 2 years prior.

The doctor's advised us that he would be being put in a medically induced coma and placed on a ventilator, Caleb begged me to see him before they put him under. I could not be there in person, but we were able to talk very briefly via FaceTime. It pained me to hear him, as he could barely talk at all. I am grateful that his brother, Kyle, was able to be present, and stand outside the ICU window before Caleb was intubated. All of this happening due to a small virus called COVID-19.

I was also positive for the virus, after day 3 of Caleb showing symptoms. Thankfully the baby was never impacted or affected. I only had 99-degree temps and lost all sense of smell for some time. My fever only lasted a few days and of the two, I was the milder case. I would give anything for Caleb to have the symptoms I had. We never envisioned it would affect him like this when we heard that his co-worker was positive. We were living the worst night-mare imagined.

He remained on the ventilator for almost a month but was not getting better, only worse. He was 100% being supported by the ventilator with his kidneys shutting down. His lungs collapsed (both sides). I will never forget the call from the critical care specialist advising me Caleb had to go to a special hospital to get a treatment called ECMO, in order to survive. (ECMO: Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, also known as extracorporeal life support, is an extracorporeal technique of providing prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to persons whose heart and lungs are unable to provide an adequate amount of gas exchange or perfusion to sustain life.)

I waited all day for the doctor to call me back advising me that Advent Health Orlando would take my husband, but he would have to go via ambulance. This is about a 3-hour drive north from where we live. Those were the longest hours I ever had to wait to see if my husband made it there without any complications.

He was transported and admitted to Advent Health on August 9th, 2020. He was placed on an ECMO machine that filters the blood and replaces it back into his body. Caleb was constantly retaining CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) making him severely toxic. He also had double pneumonia. On September 1st, 2020, I went into labor and had our first baby, a son, that we had agreed to name Grayson. My husband, unfortunately, missed the whole thing, as he was on the ECMO machine until after Grayson was born.

The emotional toll this has taken on both of us is astounding. Caleb is my soulmate, my best friend, my second chance in life. Caleb wanted to meet his beautiful son but at the writing of this story, October 21st, he has yet to be able to do that.

Due to the amount of time Caleb has been in bed and unable to really move, he developed a pressure ulcer on his lower back which has now grown so large it takes up a big portion of his lower back and is deep to the bone. Due to the risk of stool getting in there, the specialist has placed a Colostomy bag. Also, with him being on so many medicines for his low blood pressure, his toes did not receive the circulation needed to stay healthy and he ended up having all 10 toes amputated. He has also lost more than 100 pounds due to a lack of mobility and due to being so ill. I have also been told Caleb developed a brain bleed on his left frontal lobe, but so far it has not grown or affected him drastically. He is experiencing weakness on his right side though.

The doctors decided to place Caleb on a trach due to the risk of infection, with the ventilator being in place for so long. He received the trach with no issues and is now somewhat able to talk but not a whole lot just yet. It has been 90 days to this day since I have heard my husband's normal voice. Not only has this virus taken his physical body through the wringer, but his mental and emotional state is so fragile. He has developed PTSD and is constantly in fear of not being able to breathe. The hospital staff in the ICU unit in Orlando is constantly working with Caleb on his breathing exercises. He has to work daily on rebuilding his lung strength every day. He is still in ICU, over 90 days of hospitalization. All because he went to work as he should have.

I go back to my job in law enforcement hopefully in January, as I currently have time off with the baby. Our baby is a beautiful miracle. Caleb and I FaceTime whenever we can, sometimes we go days where I don't get to “see” him, as right now, this is all that I can do, as he still cannot talk on the phone. This has been our life for months now. My husband is in a hospital that is 3 hours from my residence, so with help from family, I am able to occasionally visit due to him finally being in a COVID-free unit. People have asked how I do it, and honestly, I really do not know. I cry every day for him. I want him to hold our son, to meet him. I want our son to know his dad and how amazing he is. Caleb was so excited to have a boy.

I wish with all of my heart I could make this all go away. I wanted my husband to hold our son when he was born. I will never have those photos. I have pretty much been a single parent caring for our house and our one and a half-month-old son, Grayson, dog, Samson, and cat, Cleopatra. Our life will never be the same. We took this virus seriously as anyone should. No this is not like the flu. This virus took my husband who is 29 years old with NO HEALTH ISSUES down a road of pain and heartache. No one deserves to be this sick.

My advice is this, please use caution everywhere you go. Big groups are no go. Please wash your hands and use caution around people. These are scary times. I can only hope and pray this virus gets a cure. My husband is still suffering from all the after-effects and I don't wish this on anyone else out there.

And baby will make 3... an exciting announcement for

Caleb and I. He's hoping for a BOY!

Caleb and I celebrating my pregnancy on a beautiful

beach, before our lives, were changed by COVID-19.

Caleb, our fur-baby, Samson, and me, in healthier days.

Our mini-Caleb.. our little blessing, Grayson.

#CALEB-STRONG. I was able to visit him on our 2nd wedding anniversary, yesterday, 10/20/2020- he smiled for the camera....I can't wait for the day where he can come home again and be with Grayson and me.

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