Piedmont Walton patient who gave nurses hope gives them high praise for care she received

In honor of National Nurses Week, a previous COVID-19 patient expresses her gratitude

MONROE, GA (May 11, 2023) Darlene Dillard, of Loganville, was not expected to survive, but she did. She says there were things she can’t explain that helped bring her through a 2021 bout of the Delta variant of COVID-19, but one thing that did help was the care she received from the nurses and staff at Piedmont Walton.

“All of them, I would like to really highlight the workers and the nurses at Piedmont. I know Piedmont gets a bad rap sometimes but I had nothing but love and care from them. I have so many praises for all of them – they took such good care of me,” Dillard said.

Dillard’s experience began in September 2021 when she and her husband, Dewayne, were both transported to Piedmont Walton by ambulance in the height of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Two weeks later, her husband was discharged and she was in ICU Room 123 where she remained for a total of 83 days, fighting for her life. After his release, her husband returned and spent the rest of her time with her. But under the COVID rules, the rest of her family was only able to see her through the window.

Left Darlene and Dewayne Dillard at Piedmont Walton, middle, the Dillards and right, Darlene Dillard’s mother and children visiting her during her stay at Landmark Rehab Christmas Day 2021. Contributed photos

That she survived is a miracle, but she believes she had a little more help than just the great care she received from the Piedmont doctors and nurses and the love and support of her husband and immediate family.

“I don’t remember much, but basically I wasn’t supposed to make it until Thanksgiving. I had already coded a couple of times and my family had planned my funeral. They had called my family in and they were just waiting for me to pass,” Dillard said. “I have a twin brother in Korea – he had also been called in and he made it in two days from Korea. My oldest son was also there with my husband. I remember waking up and could see my husband and oldest son at the foot of my bed. My son walked over to my bedside and he was smiling. Their faces were covered with the mask, but his eyes were smiling. He reached down and touched my hand and started to cry. When my face showed a puzzled look, he pulled his mask down to under his chin and you know, when a light suddenly illuminates – I realized it was my twin brother.”

Dillard said she didn’t understand why he was there. She didn’t know what had happened to her. She was later told that it was while they were waiting for her to pass, when her brother got there, that she woke up and her healing began.

“I guess it is a twin thing. I started getting better and I was eventually transferred to Landmark in Athens for rehab. My brother had come to say his goodbyes and he stayed an extra couple of weeks. But when I went to rehab he was able to go home,” Dillard said.

Left: Darlene Dillard and her twin brother, Daniel Walker, right Daniel Walker, brother, Lela White, mother and Darlene Dillard. Contributed photos

There was one other thing to which Dillard attributes her miraculous recovery, and it too is one she can’t really explain.

“I was never alone. I had my family with me, but every time I would wake up, there was a little boy that was sitting in my room – always in the seated position with his head down so I never saw his face. He was always bright. I knew when I opened my eyes he would be there. He was no different than you would be standing in front of me,” Dillard said. “But when my twin brother showed up, I didn’t see my little boy anymore. He was my guardian angel.”

But while Dillard has high praise for the nurses, they claim she did as much for them. She gave them hope, something there was not that much of in the height of the pandemic. During the time she was in the ICU, and her family were in the waiting room, four families got the news that their loved one did not survive. She said her family has told her they were just waiting until they were the ones to get that news – but they never were.

“She gave HOPE to the nurses because she was a miracle case,” said Lynne Van Buul, the pulmonary nurse practitioner responsible for Dillard’s care during her time at Piedmont Walton. “Her twin brother came from Korea to say a final goodbye after being on a ventilator for well over a month, and she woke up when he called her name. I will never discount all the other patients who died, but she kept the nurses going. When we saw a patient who’s only chance was a double lung transplant get to walk again, and she’s now off oxygen with her birth lungs – that’s a miracle.”

Left: Pulmonary Nurse Practitioner Lynne Van Buul and Darlene Dillard; right, Night nurse Diane F. Contributed photos

“All the doctors and nurses lined the hallway as they wheeled me out, clapping and crying, and one of the respiratory therapist that took care of me also worked for Landmark and took care of me in both places,” Dillard said. “When I got there, there was a huge poster that she had that all of the nurses signed and she put it on my wall. She told me to look at it every day and know how many people were rooting and praying for me,” Dillard said. “And Lynne (Van Buul) was doing a procedure on me one day and asked if I like Mexican food. I nodded because I couldn’t speak with the trache in, and she said once this was over, she would take me for Mexican. And she did. She arranged it with my husband once I was out. The nurses there would come in and brush and braid my hair – and even during their breaks they would come and talk to me. They were wonderful.

“I gave so many nurses hope. One nurse who works there said ‘I prayed for you every time I came in that room.’ She said I tested her faith and I tested her as a nurse. And when I got better, she knew she was where she was supposed to be.”

Dillard said her ICU Room 123 is now known as the “the healing room” at the hospital and she has been told that someone else who occupied that room after her also had his struggle eventually turn around and he was able to make it out.

It is now going on 20 months since Dillard began her battle with long COVID-19, and she still has a way to go. But she couldn’t let National Nurses Week go by without letting the nurses at Piedmont Walton know again how much she appreciated everything they did for her. She stopped by the hospital on Wednesday and Thursday evening with goodies she had for them and to once again thank them for their service.

May 11, 2023, Darlene Dillard visiting Piedmont Walton in honor of National Nurses Week 2023, left, from left; Sharon, Jennifer, Brennan, Darlene, Wendy and Judy and right, Sam and Darlene. Contributed photos

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