Things were going great for Daniel Perry
in late July 2021 – he was “living the dream," as he put it.
He was happily married, his first child was almost due, and he was enjoying work at the N.C. Department of Transportation.
He had recently received a call from his supervisor, offering him a promotion to become the Division 3 Bridge Maintenance Engineer. He was eager to start, but at the time he was working to get over a fever that was with him for several days.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to take it, I’m super excited, but (it will) probably be 3-4 days before I get back,’” Daniel recalled.
From that point forward, his condition got progressively worse. What began as a mild fever and cough turned into him gasping for air. Within a few days he was in the hospital, where he clung to life on a ventilator for nearly two months in a battle with COVID-19.
Daniel’s wife, Mindy, was eight months pregnant at the time he was admitted to the hospital. She faced her own battle with COVID-19 as she gave birth to the couple’s first child – a healthy baby boy named Tucker. Daniel was in the intensive care unit struggling to breathe when the medical team informed him he was a dad.
“He knew Tucker was alive. He knew we were both in the ICU,” Mindy said.
Mindy ultimately fought off COVID and was released to go home with Tucker. She said she was fortunate to have her mother’s help as she waited anxiously for her husband to recover.
“I’d break one day, she’d pick me back up, and then the next day, she’d break, and I’d be fine, and I’d pick her back up,” she said. “I think having that support… we’d tell each other don’t give up.”
Daniel was put on a ventilator a few days after becoming a father. He said his next memory didn’t come until mid-October.
The medical staff did all they could to try and keep the 34-year-old alive. While Mindy held out hope, the doctors did not. They gave Daniel only a 6% chance of surviving.
Mindy continued to pray to anyone who would listen, and then a miracle happened.
“We had a talking with Daniel, whether he could hear us or not, we say that he did because we said, ‘Baby, you’ve got to breathe,’ Mindy recalled. “I said, ‘All I want for my anniversary is for you to breathe.’ The next day, he was breathing over the ventilator.”
Daniel fully relied on the ventilator machine to move air in and out of his lungs for 59 days.
“The good Lord saved my life, but I think he uses people as tools and the people at New Hanover (Regional Medical Center) were the tools he used,” he said.
He had a long road to recovery ahead of him: “I couldn’t lift my hands, my head. I couldn’t hardly move my face,” he said. But he was determined.
“Every morning you get out of bed, and I feel like I ran 10 miles the day before," Daniel recalled. "Everything hurts, everything is sore, but compared to laying in the bed, not being able to move, it’s amazing. It felt like it would never come back.”
Daniel said his doctors told him it would be at least a year before he could return to work. Once again, Daniel defied the odds. In early April, he made his return to work at NCDOT’s Division 3 headquarters in Castle Hayne as the Bridge Maintenance Engineer.
“When I originally started with DOT, I was with the bridge department. I left for a while and just always wanted to come back – that’s where my heart was," Daniel said. “Throughout it all I just kept my faith in the Lord. He wasn’t quite ready for me yet.”
Today, Daniel is grateful. He’s landed in his dream job and he’s back with his wife and his young son. He is excited for what’s to come – including celebrating his son’s first birthday and many more years at NCDOT.