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Collierville man urging unvaccinated roll up their sleeves after barely surviving COVID-19 last summer

Sam Martin - a father of two - required a specialized ECMO machine at Baptist Memphis Hospital to breathe and survive. The COVID survivor is now a vaccine advocate.

COLLIERVILLE, Tennessee — A Collierville man who barely survived COVID-19 a year ago is urging those unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves - an option Sam Martin didn't have when he came down with the virus.

The 37-year-old and father of two is sharing his story of survival and the appreciation of a specialized machine that allowed him to breathe and stay alive.

"I got weaker and weaker and weaker," Martin recalled after he contracted COVID in July 2020.

He said his symptoms intensified and his family rushed him to Baptist Memphis Hospital.

"They transported me back immediately, in a wheelchair. That's how weak I was," Martin remembered.

His conditions only worsened from there.

"I stumbled to get to the bed and that's when I called my wife, like, I don't think I'm going to make it. It's serious," Martin said.

"They weren't sure if he was going to live or not. So I was like, it's what hour by hour? They said no. It's minute by minute," Kelly Martin, Sam's wife, added.

The father survived, thanks in large to an ECMO machine, a last resort for critical COVID patients. It can temporarily run a patient's lungs and heart.

"Fortunately I was blessed to have one available to me, because if not, I wouldn't be here today speaking," Martin said. 

"Within probably the next four to six hours I think, it probably would have been completely overwhelming and (not) survivable," Baptist Dr. Jim Craig recalled of Martin's condition.

Dr. Craig remains grateful Martin pulled through, especially since roughly half of COVID patients who go on ECMO machines at Baptist don't recover. 

"To see someone come out of a really difficult situation where there are no guarantees, they may not make it - and to see them make it, it gives you sort of the strength to pick up and keep trying," Dr. Craig added.

Now, after a year of recovery, Martin is not only a COVID-19 survivor but a vocal COVID-19 vaccine advocate.

"I talk about it all day, every day, get vaccinated," Martin said. "It can save your life. It could save someone else's life."

Baptist doctors said of the roughly 600 COVID patients on an ECMO machine during the pandemic, not one of them was fully vaccinated and no fully vaccinated person was even in serious consideration for an ECMO machine.