Va. Extension agent Paulette back to work after beating deadly illness
PULASKI, Va. — “God didn’t just get me through it,” Morgan Paulette declared in the middle of his second week at work since January. “He was with me.”
Paulette, agriculture and natural resources agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Pulaski County, went to the hospital months ago after feeling bad for a couple days. He was diagnosed with the flu rapidly progressed to pneumonia and then septic shock.
He returned to part-time work at the Pulaski County Extension office in May.
“I don’t remember any of the first month,” Paulette said of the experience. “It was about as severe as it can be.”
He has since been learning of the efforts made by family, friends, churches, Virginia’s farming community and strangers who prayed and supported him and his family.
“God saved his life,” said Holly Paulette, Morgan’s wife. “All science and evidence pointed to him not recovering. He defied everything they expected.”
During that time, Holly said she took a spiritual journey as well, relying on prayer and Christian scripture to guide and comfort her. Much of this she shared on her CaringBridge account where she also kept their friends in the loop about Morgan’s day-to-day situation.
“On January 5, 2023, my completely-healthy, 32-year-old husband was put on the most extreme form of life support after a bout with the flu turned deadly,” Holly wrote in her blog, chronicling the ordeal. “We spent two months in the hospital, and Morgan tiptoed along the brink of heaven many times. But God—through both the brilliance of an incredible medical team and mostly through His abundant grace — saved his life. It’s a story that changed absolutely everything about our lives — and I pray changed a lot of others’ lives, too.”
When Morgan’s breathing worsened the night of Jan. 5, Holly called his parents, Dwight and Lucy Paulette, to take him to the local emergency room in Radford, Va., because she and the three children were sick, too. He was quickly admitted to intensive care as he struggled to breathe..
Holly said his condition deteriorated quickly and he decided to be placed on a ventilator to let his lungs rest. That lasted for 21 days.
As the medical team realized Morgan was sicker than first thought, they made the decision to airlift him to a larger hospital in Roanoke. Morgan’s condition continued to decline and his heart and lungs were stressed to the point doctors chose an extreme treatment, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, known as ECMO, which lasted 13 days.
According to the Mayo Clinic, ECMO is a “procedure which pumps blood outside of the body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body.”
The goal, Holly said, was to let Morgan’s heart and lungs rest. The doctors projected a 50 percent chance of survival at that point. Then he went cardiac arrest. With both heart and lungs failing, Morgan was placed on venoarterial ECMO, the most extreme life support treatment available, with a 30-percent chance of survival.
Finally, one morning, Holly arrived at the ICU to be met by a nurse. Fearing the worst news, she got the best. Things had improved dramatically overnight and Morgan was taken off the ventilator. Another milestone lay ahead, one of many. There came the day when he stood up by himself for 10 seconds.
Morgan is working at the office part-time and projects a full-time return to work in the fall, depending on how his recovery goes. Neuropathy and loss of balance are problems he is still working to resolve. He said he is having out-patient physical therapy after a stint in a rehab facility upon release from the hospital. He is keeping active, mowing and cleaning gutters at home, Holly reported.
Morgan was quick to say this is not just his story, but the story of his family and his friends, all of whom came together to help in countless ways.
Holly’s parents, Dan and Karen Chapman, came from Wilmington, N.C. to help. Morgan and Holly have a 10-year-old son and daughters ages 5 and 3.
Morgan expressed his gratitude and amazement at all the help they received. This included prayers, financial assistance, meals and even a special trip to a Hokie basketball team for the kids and caregivers who got VIP treatment. He said he has been told of prayers offered during several agricultural events across the state.
He added he is grateful for the many acts of kindness he and his family have received from people he has never met.
“There were thousands of people praying,” he said. “I didn’t know how many. It’s been very humbling, the Grace of God at work for me to see how many people were praying,”