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Recovering coronavirus patient leaving ICU receives guard of honor from Alabama hospital staff


Medical staff lined a hallway of East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika on Tuesday, cheering who the hospital described as the first patient healthy enough to be removed from a ventilator, discharged from the intensive care unit and moved to a regular room.

Tony Thornton, 48, waved to the celebrating staff as he was pushed down the hallway in a wheelchair – a rare uplifting moment for the facility and the area of the state that has been ravaged by the coronavirus.

The hospital said 6 patients died in less than 48 hours after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Altogether, seven patients have died at neighboring Chambers County, which is part of the hospital service area, along with two in Opelika’s Lee County.

To date, Chambers County has seen the most coronavirus deaths confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The county also has another suspected death related to COVID-19 that is still under investigation by the ADPH. And in Lee County, three other deaths are under investigation.

Thornton lives in Auburn and was admitted to EAMC on March 20 and placed on a ventilator, the hospital said. He was removed from the ventilator on Sunday.

“I am still weak, but feeling pretty good,” Thornton said in a hospital statement. “I talked to my wife for the first time and that was wonderful.”

As for his advice to the public, Thornton said in the hospital statement, “People need to follow the guidelines. This is a big deal.”

The hospital said 29 other COVID-19 inpatients have been discharged home.

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