As America has adapted to the constraints of social distancing, work-related virtual conference calls have become commonplace. But there was one virtual meeting recently at Parkwest Medical Center that was anything but ordinary.  Michael Napier, a Knoxville pastor, dialed in to talk with a team of healthcare professionals who helped save his life. “I don’t believe you have an occupation,” Napier told the men and women in the group. “You have a calling for what you do and I’m grateful for your work.”

Screen shot of Zoom call with Mr. Napier
Healthcare heroes joined a virtual reunion with former patient Michael Napier (highlighted in photo above).

COVID-19 put Napier in the hospital in August, 2020. He was on a ventilator for 21 days and was able to go home in mid-September. In some cases, these healthcare workers are the only ones to bear witness to his story, because there are gaps in Napier’s memory and times when he was unconscious.During the call, Napier listened intently, asking a few questions along the way and frequently becoming emotional. It’s not every day a man gets to see the people who rescued him from the grip of a deadly virus responsible for a worldwide pandemic. He had never fully seen the faces of his healthcare heroes before. Even when he was conscious in  the hospital, they had been covered in personal protective equipment.

Recovery and Reflection

His muscles had atrophied during his illness, so as he recovered, physical therapists had to
help Napier relearn basic movements like sitting up and standing. It was a struggle, but he was a
fighter. Parkwest physical therapists worked with him daily as he lay in his hospital bed. They
customized exercises to help him regain muscle strength. When he was transferred to Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, therapy continued and intensified. Napier was able to leave the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center and go home in time for his 61st birthday. He was weak and 70 pounds lighter, but he was alive.

picture of Mrs. and Mr. Napier
Michael Napier, pastor of Berea Baptist Church in Knoxville, pictured with  his wife Linda.

Safe at home and sitting with his wife Linda, Napier listened as members of his medical team told pieces of his story.

“We saw you every day. I remember when you were able to move your arms finally, and it was amazing.”

“We worked with you when you were in critical care. I had a great experience watching you progress, getting up to the chair and just really working your hardest with us.”

“Chris and I helped you stand for the first time. I’ll never forget that because you didn’t think you could do it, but we knew you could and you did.”

“One of the first times that we saw you when you were able to have the [ventilator] out of your
mouth, we stood you up, and we were playing music for you and you sang every word of the

“It is a big honor to see such a great outcome in this time of need.”

“ You’re why we do what we do.”

Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory

Still dealing with the aftereffects of his illness, Napier said he’s managed to find joy in the journey. Happiness, he explained, is based on circumstances, while joy is internal. “It is grace that transcends emotion,” Napier told the group. He then fell silent for a  moment as emotion overwhelmed him, wiping tears from his face as he continued. “I believe that God  put me at Parkwest for the care I was to get there to survive this, and I think it enabled you to do the things that had to be done to get me where I am today.”

Napier gives God the glory for the miraculous recovery, and gives thanks for the people who  delivered skilled and compassionate care at Parkwest, making that recovery a reality. Katherine Strobel, a director of patient care services at Park west, was one of the many  who congratulated Napier, expressing the thoughts of many. “It’s an honor to all of us to be able to serve you,” Strobel said. “Your praise and your appreciation keeps us going during difficult times. These few minutes you’ve spent with  us will pay forward in the car others for a long time.”

A Caring Team

When a patient suffering from COVID-19 comes to Parkwest Medical Center, dozens of people may be involved in the care that follows. Sealed off from the rest of the world for safety, the efforts to comfort and rescue the sick are often unseen, but nonetheless crucial.

In the critical care unit:

  • Physicians
  • Registered nurses
  • Nurse manager
  • Case managers
  • Health unit coordinator
  • Patient care assistants
  • Physical therapy team
  • Runners
  • STAT acuity nurses (rapid response)
  • Respiratory therapists

In addition, each department includes non-clinical staff members who are instrumental in making sure COVID-19 patients get the care they need:

  • Housekeepers (prioritizing sanitation)
  • Registration
  • Engineering team (to help maintain negative pressure on the unit)
  • Transport team
  • Central supply
  • Greeters/hospital volunteers

As a member of Covenant Health, Parkwest Medical Center also benefits from a special partnership  with Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, where physical therapy can continue after the patient leaves the hospital and before returning home.

Covenant Health and Parkwest Medical Center wish to express thanks to the men and women who have dedicated their lives not only to COVID-19 patients, but every patient who is entrusted to their care.