NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – “I didn’t believe in the vaccine, and I didn’t believe necessarily in masks. I did not believe any of it,” said Steve Sechler through labored breath from his hospital room at TriStar Centennial Medical Center.

Sechler spent 66 days attached to a breathing machine while in a coma. The 43-year-old had no pre-existing conditions and thought he’d rebound quickly if ever he caught COVID-19.

“I was just another person who took it for granted, who thought that old people with preexisting conditions got it,” Sechler said.

(TriStar Centennial Medical Center)

Sechler was admitted to the hospital on May 21. The outlook was grim.

“His lungs were the most damaged we’ve ever seen, and we never expected him to get off ECMO [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation],” said Dr. Elliott Cohen, the ICU Medical Director at TriStar Centennial.

“The best way to describe it is dialysis for the lungs. The machine does what the lungs do,” explained Jamie Jarzembowski, ECMO Coordinator at Centennial.

Barely hanging on to life, his family made the difficult decision no one wants to make.

“About three weeks ago, his mom came in, and everyone sort of made a plan to take him off ECMO and let him die,” said Dr. Cohen, “In the background, I was saying, I just didn’t feel comfortable with that.”

The family listened to Dr. Cohen. Sechler was granted one last fighting chance.

“To be honest, two months ago we would have never thought we’d be having this conversation with him,” said Jarzembowski.

“Not only did he get off ECMO, which speaks to his will to live, he’s just on oxygen, not even requiring a ventilator,” Dr. Cohen explained.

Even still, Sechler faces a long road to recovery.

“My lungs collapsed. I was in a coma. I can’t walk. All my muscles are weak. I have a hard time breathing. Right now, just talking, is taking all my energy,” he said.

Sechler, a huge baseball fan, will probably need a lung transplant in the future. His mother has moved to Nashville to take care of him.

“I know that people want their freedom. I know that there’s a point of contention. I just want it to be known, the vaccine will help, masks work,” Sechler said, “I’m telling you, do not end up like me. You will regret it.”