Florida Dad Recovers From COVID-19 One Month After Heart and Kidney Transplants: 'I'm a Survivor'
Enell "Trent" Porter had a dual transplant on the last day of February — weeks later, he, his wife and 5-year-old son battled the novel coronavirus
Enell “Trent” Porter was thrilled: Following a three-year wait, the dad from Tallahassee, Fla., was finally getting both a new heart and a new kidney. After being diagnosed with congestive heart failure at 35 and later developing diabetes and experiencing stage 4 renal failure, the 50-year-old was ready for a second chance at life.
On February 29 at 2 a.m., Porter had a heart transplant at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla. Twelve hours later, he received a new kidney.
Both surgeries were successful and the organs started working immediately — a huge relief to Trent and his wife Irish Porter, who together own a home heath care business.
A few days later, the couple’s 5-year-old son, Caleb, got sick. He had a fever, bad cough and diarrhea, and the usually active kid was sluggish.
“He had all the signs of Corona,” Irish, 37, tells PEOPLE. “All the symptoms.”
Irish took Caleb to the pediatrician and the emergency room, but doctors said it was probably a stomach bug. “They weren’t testing children then,” Irish says.
Trent was released from the hospital on Friday, March 20. The family temporarily moved into a condo near the hospital while he recovered.
On Monday, March 23, Irish thought she had a cold when she dropped Trent at the hospital for an overnight, routine post-op procedure.
The next day, her condition had progressed to a high fever and flu-like symptoms. Her whole body hurt and she could barely walk. She also had a sore throat and difficulty breathing.
Trent’s heart team insisted she get tested for COVID-19. “They wouldn’t release him until I got tested,” Irish says.
She tested positive.
At the time, her husband says he felt fine and just had a runny nose. “I thought it was allergies,” he tells PEOPLE.
But then he tested positive for coronavirus, too.
Hospital staff isolated Trent and observed him, but since he was mostly symptom-free, he was discharged.
“It was pretty terrible to know the risk category he was in, and not have a whole lot we could do about it,” says Dr. Juan Vilaro, his transplant cardiologist at the University of Florida. “We monitored him, but he wasn’t sick enough to be there.”
Later in the week, Trent returned to the condo near the hospital. Irish remembers lying awake Friday night listening to her husband gasp and cough, struggling to get air.
“He was having the hardest time breathing,” Irish says.
On Saturday, Trent was rushed back to the hospital in an ambulance.
He FaceTimed his wife before being put in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator.
“I told her, ‘Hey listen. This is not goodbye. This is not over yet. We’ve got a lot to do still,’ ” Trent recalls. “I just heard God saying, ‘No, not yet. It ain’t over.’ ”
Less than a month after his heart transplant, an ultrasound showed his new heart’s function had decreased. Doctors didn’t know if his body was rejecting the new heart, or if coronavirus was negatively affecting it. Treatment is contradictory, explains his cardiologist. The medical team decided it was most likely caused by the coronavirus, so they decreased his immunosuppressants.
“When he rapidly decompensated we were all worried not knowing what the best treatment options were,” says his heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Mark Bleiweis, director of the Congenital Heart Center and surgical director of the Heart Transplant Program at the University of Florida-Gainesville. “We had no idea what would happen.”
After about a week on the ventilator, Trent remembers waking up.
“I looked around and said, ‘I’m still here. I made it,’ ” he says.
As he recovered from the virus, his new heart started working well again.
“For him to be on a ventilator and be extremely ill — close to death — and then just rally, it’s kind of a miracle,” Bleiweis tells PEOPLE.
Last Saturday, Trent returned to his Tallahassee home with his wife and son. He grabbed the bicycle he'd bought two years ago as a Christmas present for Irish and live-streamed his first bike ride on Facebook.
“I went Live to show people that God is real," Trent says. "I’m a survivor.”
An active member of his church, Trent can’t wait for it to reopen so he can return to ushering, singing in the choir and delivering meals to senior citizens.
Having been in the hospital since before Thanksgiving awaiting his transplant, he'd missed his son’s, his wife’s and his own birthdays. He only came home for a quick visit for Christmas.
“We missed a lot of important moments, valuable moments,” Trent says.
As he recovers, Trent has been enjoying taking Caleb on bike rides and training their 5-month-old Yorkie, Ace, who the family adopted March 21.
“I got my life back,” Trent says. “I am able to start living.”