David Byrd faced an eight-month-long battle with Covid-19 that included symptoms of long Covid, making him change his stance about the pandemic in a statement shared on Friday.
Mr Byrd participated last year in an overnight retreat in Nashville with 70 Republicans from the House of Representatives at a time when the pandemic was raging through the country, yet many at the event were shown not wearing masks.
And just months before being hospitalised, Mr Byrd had joined his Republican colleagues in passing a resolution that chastised the news media, saying it “sensationalised the reporting on Covid-19 in the service of political agendas”. Mr Byrd was seen without a mask on the House floor at the time, the Nashville Tennessean reported.
He subsequently tested positive for coronavirus a week and a half later, shortly before Thanksgiving, and was admitted to hospital on 5 December when he developed pneumonia.
“For 55 days, I was in an intensive care unit on a ventilator. Although ventilators save lives, the sobering reality is that the overwhelming majority of intubated Covid-19 patients do not survive,” he said in the statement.
The 63-year-old conservative politician said he had “no memories” of the time, but added that his family “will certainly never forget it”, sharing that his family begun plans to give him a funeral.
“They were traumatised daily by the distressing updates on my status. Everything that can go wrong with Covid did,” he added.
BREAKING—Republican TN Rep. David Byrd on an ICU ventilator for COVID-19, & “needs a miracle”.
➡️ Byrd & GOP colleagues didn’t wear masks, hosted large parties, & had declared media “sensationalized” #COVID19. GOP friend w/ COVID also recently in ICU.
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 16, 2020
Mr Byrd’s health declined rapidly to the point that he needed a liver transplant. He said he developed jaundice and “was later diagnosed with Covid cholangiopathy”.
“I was told I would need a liver transplant or else I would die. Again, my family prepared for the worst,” he said. Mr Byrd received a new liver on 12 June.
Even though Mr Byrd’s change of heart resulted in him telling his constituents to take the pandemic seriously, he did add that he understands “the concerns of those who are hesitant”, without offering further explanation or details.
“I have never been against taking the Covid-19 vaccine, but I understand the concerns of those who are hesitant,” he said in the statement. “To them, I would say Covid is real and it is very dangerous. It is a disease that wants to kill us. Please take it seriously. Please consider getting vaccinated. This is an issue that should not divide us.”