Last October, Owensboro Times spoke to Jill Emerson Taylor about her husband Josh’s heart failure, and the many complications he’d sustained after having his cardiac pacemaker replaced. At that time, nearly 120 days into his hospital stay in Lexington, Josh was so sick and weak that he was only able to communicate by mouthing out words.
Josh’s remarkable recovery is still ongoing, and it will continue that way for a while, but the strides he’s made over the last five-and-a-half months are a testament to the couples’ strength. Each day is still a challenge that he and Jill face together, but his ability to now speak and sit up on his own after being bedridden for six months straight shows just how far he’s come.
The couple has been back in Owensboro since Dec. 22. After leaving Albert B. Chandler Hospital in Lexington, Josh was transferred to Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation for two weeks. Josh and Jill have settled into a routine at home, but getting acclimated to being away from the full-time care Josh received in Lexington hasn’t been easy on the couple.
“I think I came home a little earlier than what I should have, but I wanted to be home before Christmas,” Josh said. “But I am happy that I’m home. I think we’ve adjusted pretty good.”
After spending six months at the hospital, Josh became very attached to the staff who’d taken care of him and it wasn’t easy to say goodbye.
“Believe it or not, when I left the hospital, I cried,” Josh said. “They were so good there, and I was so attached. I don’t do well with change. They almost became like family. And so when I left, I was very upset. I wish I could’ve finished up my rehab at the hospital.”
Josh suffered total muscle atrophy as a result of being in a three-week coma while in the hospital. He was unable to move any part of his body after he became conscious.
“I couldn’t move my fingers. Jill had to bend my fingers for me,” Josh said. “I had to learn how to talk again, I had to learn how to swallow. I couldn’t even point to — like, if something was itching on me.”
Josh lost an incredible amount of muscle mass while he was bedridden — 130 pounds total. Doctors told Jill that every day Josh spent in the hospital would take him three days to recover from.
“Someone would have to come over here every night, pick him up, put him into the wheelchair. They’d have to pick him up out of the wheelchair and put him into the bed every night,” Jill said.
Josh has since gone from having to be carried to a wheelchair, to standing up on his own and getting around with the help of a walker. He’s also gained 20 to 25 pounds, and he said he feels better and stronger as a result.
“He was on a feeding tube for so long, and then he got to eat some chicken, and it was overnight. He looked like a different person,” Jill said. “His skin was a different color — just because he’d gotten something to eat in him.”
Just last week, Jill earned her CPR and first aid certification so she can qualify as a paid caregiver for Josh, who requires 24/7 care at all times.
“They had to teach me how to administer his antibiotics. I have to change the dressing on his bedsores,” Jill said. “It’s difficult getting someone to stay with him at all times.”
The couple said Josh is prescribed to 27 different medications he takes daily. He’s also hooked up to an LVAD machine that helps keep his heart going. The couple is looking forward to Josh being added back to the heart transplant list.
“Right now, they are trying to get me stronger so they can reactivate me back on the heart transplant list,” Josh said. “The way my body is now, they don’t think I can handle a transplant.”
According to Jill, Josh has to be in treadmill-running condition to make the list, which doctors said could take three to six months.
“Once he’s reactivated, it’ll probably be a year until he gets a heart,” Jill said.
Josh was eighth in line to get a new heart before his most recent health issues. As Josh works daily to build his strength, he said small goals are what get him through the day and help him look forward to the future.
So is there a possibility Josh could be back in the kitchen, running Big Daddy’s BBQ before long? Josh said he hopes to compete in this year’s BBQ Festival as a starting point.
“A goal of mine is to be physically strong enough to compete. I miss cooking around the house — cooking for Jill,” Josh said. “I have to have a wheelchair in the kitchen because I can’t stand up that long.”
Josh and Jill both said, despite everything that’s happened, this experience has changed them for the better and they’ve now gotten to know each other on a deeper level. Before being hospitalized, Josh said he was very withheld and kept to himself. Jill said she’s become less anxious and more patient along the way.
“When I think back to the person I was before, and the person I am now–it’s like I’m a completely different person,” Jill said. “There’s been a lot of life lessons.”
For those wishing to donate to Josh’s heart failure campaign, click here.