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ENGLEWOOD – It was an emotional day at Swedish Medical Center, as a patient who has been battling COVID-19 for the past five months was released. He has an important message for everyone.

Like a majority of ICU patients who are fighting COVID-19, Nathaniel McWilliams was not vaccinated when he got sick. He nearly died. He says had he been vaccinated, he probably would not have spent the past 158 days in the hospital.

“It’s bad cause it ate me up,” McWilliams said.

There were plenty of cheers and hugs as he left the hospital. There were days along the way that no one thought this would be possible.

“There was plenty of times i didn’t think he was going to make it,” his wife, Brenda Bailey said.

McWilliams was admitted to Swedish Medical Center on June 26 when he was having trouble breathing.

“Taking your lungs away, it’s very hard, and you have to fight. If you get sick, don’t doubt yourself, stay positive,” McWilliams said.

He tested positive for COVID-19 and was not vaccinated.

“I didn’t decide not to get it, but I took my time to go stand in line to get it,” McWilliams said.

Doctors placed him on an ECMO machine to help get oxygen into his blood. He stayed on that for 91 days.

“ECMO is an incredibly resource intensive support. Not available at other hospitals, it is a last-ditch effort for someone in respiratory failure. And this entire experience could’ve been avoided with one vaccine that is free and widely available,” Dr. Mary Laird Warner said.

McWilliams shared his story to encourage others to get vaccinated.

“It’s very important to get that shot, the booster, whatever,” McWilliams said. “I don’t think we would’ve spent the past five and a half months in the hospital if he would’ve had the shot. Even one dose of the vaccine,” added Bailey.

It was emotional, not just for McWilliams and his wife, but for the entire care team at Swedish Medical Center.

“To see him walking and able to go home is very emotional because we fought so hard to get him to that point. We are really happy,” said nurse Madison Babb. “We fought for months and months in order for him to get to this point. Every single day was grueling. He had so many bumps in the road. There were times we just had to maintain hope and fight. To see him stand was really incredible,” she added.

McWilliam is now vaccinated, as is his wife and several friends and family members.

“We know that experiencing COVID and developing natural antibodies is very powerful, but there are good studies that show providing vaccination after recovery is very important and can reduce risk of reinfection,” said Dr. Laird Warner.