He almost died of COVID. Now Ky. airline pilot spreads the word on vaccine.

·3 min read

Jack White, Jr. is a pilot for American Airlines and has always been in very good shape. No medications, no weight issues, doesn’t smoke or drink. He’s a conservative but didn’t pay much attention to the political hubbub over the COVID-19 vaccine. If you got COVID-19, you got kind of sick, but healthy people would be fine, he thought.

“It wasn’t political, I just figured I didn’t need it,” he said.

Then he got COVID-19.

In early August, he and his wife, Karen, both tested positive and hunkered down on their Nonesuch farm. His fever kept running at 104, but they didn’t have an oximeter, so it wasn’t until they got to the Baptist Health Lexington emergency room that they found out his blood oxygen was 83, way lower than it’s supposed to be. He ended up spending nine days in the COVID unit, just days away from being put on a ventilator. Luckily, he responded well to a drug called Actemra, used for rheumatoid arthritis but now with FDA emergency authorization to be used for COVID. If he hadn’t responded to that, he would have been put on a ventilator.

“We have all these crazy people calling it a government plot ... well I still can’t walk from the house to my truck, my lungs may never get back to where they were. So the shot can’t be as bad as that, as sick as I was.”

While he was in the COVID ward, a nurse explained to him that the vaccine was like a seatbelt — in a car wreck, you can still get hurt, but it won’t be nearly as bad as without one.

He got discharged, but about 10 days later, started feeling chest pains, so returned to the hospital with a blood clot in his lungs and bacterial pneumonia. Now, he’s grounded from flying for at least two months, until the blood clot clears up.

White is one of many people who wishes they’d been vaccinated, and he’s lucky enough to be alive to spread the word.

Kentucky needs him. On Monday, the New York Times reported that per capita, six of the top 10 counties in the country for COVID cases are in Kentucky. Not surprisingly, the vaccine rates in each of those counties are at or less than 50 percent. Perry County’s case rate is 252 cases per 100,000 people in a county of only about 26,000. The National Guard has been called in to help overwhelmed hospitals all over the state.

On Monday, Gov. Beshear asked people to “break the Thanksgiving dinner rule” and forge ahead with the “tough conversations that we avoid” to convince people to get vaccinated. White is ready. He’s convinced his kids, who are in their 30s and also thought they didn’t need to get the shot. He’s talking to friends and family.

“I think the vaccine is safe, and there’s no reason not to get it,” he said. At one point in the hospital, his doctor, Mark Dougherty, showed him a CAT scan of his lungs with tiny white dots marking the virus. “It looked like flying over the East Coast at night,” he said. “Anyone I get to talking to about COVID, I tell them to get the vaccine.”

White is also astounded that so many people are acting as though nothing is happening even though Kentucky’s COVID numbers are now higher than they were at what we thought was the height of the pandemic. “People in the ICUs are 20 years younger because old people got the vaccine,” he said. “The Delta variant is worse, it’s so much more contagious.

“Get the vaccine,” he said. “It didn’t compute for me. Now I hope it computes for other people.’’