Holy Name Medical Center - This Place is Different
Holy Name Medical Center - This Place is Different

Ed Pierce

"It was kind of surreal at the time but I realized the entire staff always treated me as a person, not just a patient and they really cared that I got well."

Ed Pierce got COVID-19 as the pandemic started its stranglehold in the tri-state area. He became so ill, there were days when medical experts didn't know if he'd make it. Yet despite his ordeal, Ed feels his wife's experience was just as harrowing as his.

Initially, Ed and his wife, Pixie, thought he had pneumonia. When his symptoms worsened, she drove him to Holy Name, thinking they'd get his symptoms under control and he'd be home in a day or two.

Those phone calls became their lifeline.

It was March 16, 2020. Pixie wouldn't see Ed for 48 days.

His decline was steady. Days later, his oxygen levels dipped precariously low, even with devices to help him breathe, and a pulmonologist came into his room. Ed, unable to speak, remembers the doctor looking into his eyes and nodding ever so slightly. Ed knew, without any words, that it was time to go on a ventilator.

Meanwhile, Ed's family was living through their own terror. Pixie and their three children weren't able to visit him and were desperate for news. They feared his condition mirrored what they were seeing on TV broadcasts.

Holy Name understood the plight of patients' families like the Pierces, who were anxiously waiting for information on their loved ones. A team of medical personnel was formed to communicate daily with these families, even when the news wasn't good.

At the Pierce household, the phone rang every day around 4 p.m. Sometimes it was a physician asking for permission to try a new medicine or therapy; other times it was a hospital administrator. Once, it was a nun. But someone always called.

Looking back, Ed said though he was fighting for his life, his family's struggle was unimaginable, waiting and trying not to think the worst. Those phone calls became their lifeline. It was this human connection that helped them through the terror.

Ed and his family weren't the only ones fighting. Each day, Holy Name's physicians were collaborating with other nearby hospitals and reviewing new data from far-flung medical centers across the globe on the most promising COVID treatments.

"I'm so thankful I was chosen to be the first recipient of the Pluristem therapy and in many ways, this was the catalyst for our miracle."

Finally, a new treatment, Pluristem cell therapy, showed promise with COVID patients in Israel. Ed had been in a medically induced coma for weeks, so when a physician called Pixie to tell her that Ed could be the first person in the U.S. to receive it, she quickly agreed to the treatment.

It was the first day of Passover and later, Ed and Pixie would refer to this phone call as their Passover miracle. He received 15 injections of placenta cells into different muscle groups in his body.

"I'm so thankful I was chosen to be the first recipient of the Pluristem therapy and in many ways, this was the catalyst for our miracle," Ed said.

It was the turnaround they had been praying for – each day he grew a little stronger. The phone calls were more upbeat, with promising reports of Ed's progress.

He woke up in the newly constructed wing for COVID patients, though still in an illness-induced fog. He noted the plywood walls, the exposed ceiling lighting and the plastic sheeting hung to separate patients. Ed, 49, is a Tony-nominated set designer, who envisions the elaborate scenes that shape stories told on Broadway stages.

"I remember looking around and thinking I was on a set – it looked like a MASH unit from the TV show," Ed said. "The urgency was palpable."

Yet, someone took the time to share a sign of hope. Literally. A handwritten sign was pinned on the temporary wall near his bed. It read: "Keep moving your feet, Mr. Pierce." In his COVID fog, he used it as his mantra to keep fighting, even as he transferred out of the ICU. Soon, he focused on really moving – out of the hospital. He'd been there for six weeks and it was time.

His physicians agreed and as Ed was wheeled through the hospital halls, Broadway music cascaded through loudspeakers. A cheering crowd of hospital staff, family and friends greeted him outside the front door. They were celebrating – for him, for his family, for hope. No Broadway opening was more momentous.

Pixie, his kids, sister, and parents stood amid familiar faces and strangers clapping and cheering. The phone calls and FaceTime chats had kept them connected but there was nothing like being together again.

"It was kind of surreal at the time but I realized the entire staff always treated me as a person, not just a patient and they really cared that I got well," Ed said. "Holy Name did an amazing job in an unprecedented time of chaos. I'm so grateful to be here."

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