A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

How one University of Louisville employee’s battle against COVID-19 inspired a community


By Talia Horn
University of Louisville

In early summer of 2020, Demetrius Booker was a healthy, young father and a graphic designer with the J.B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville. He was following all the precautions to protect himself from COVID-19. But by the end of summer, Booker would be fighting for his life – a fight that he would ultimately win.

After developing symptoms such as fever, fatigue and trouble breathing, Booker headed to a Louisville emergency room for what he thought was a case of pneumonia. Much to his surprise, the nursing staff informed him that had contracted the COVID-19 virus. He was admitted to the hospital and was immediately prepped for a CT Scan. That’s where Booker’s memory goes dark.

“I woke up over a month later in Lexington, not knowing where I was at.” he said. “A nurse came in and started asking me questions. She asked me what month I thought it was. I went in on July 18 – so I told her July. It was September.”

Demetrius Booker, his daughter and his coworkers from the Speed School of Engineering. (Photo from UofL)

Booker awoke from his medically-induced coma over 70 miles from home and surrounded by a sea of needles, tubes and life-supporting medical equipment. The medical staff of three different hospitals had worked diligently to save his life, but Booker wasn’t out of the woods just yet.

While Booker had survived a 95-day battle with COVID-19, the long road to rehabilitation was still ahead of him when he was transferred to Baptist Health Louisville on Oct. 11. He had lost over 50 pounds over the course of treatment. It was difficult to bear his full weight on his legs, and even more difficult to start walking again. The feeding tube that had kept him alive now presented him with new challenges to overcome. Booker had to re-learn how to eat, drink and speak again.

Overcoming these new challenges was a feat on its own, but Booker was determined to reunite with his family as soon as possible.

“I’m a father, so my biggest concern was getting back to my daughter,” Booker said. “We are so close it isn’t even funny. For me, quitting wasn’t even an option.”

On Oct. 23, Booker was discharged. He was met by a processional of friends, family and coworkers waving signs saying, “best day ever” and “welcome home.” After months apart, Booker was reunited with his overjoyed 4-year-old daughter. But this happy homecoming would unfortunately be cut short.

A sharp pain in his stomach immediately set off alarm bells for Booker. After returning to the hospital, doctors informed Booker that his gallbladder had failed. It needed to be removed, but his lungs were still weak for the surgery to be performed safely. After weeks of outpatient care and recovery from his rollercoaster battle with the COVID-19 virus, the surgery was carried out successfully. Demetrius Booker was finally going home for good.

Coworkers at the University of Louisville were among Booker’s biggest supporters during his battle with COVID-19 and gallbladder failure. Colleagues transferred their own sick days and vacation days to Booker. Some came with homemade signs for their coworker to celebrate his recovery. Many donated money to the GoFundMe page that mitigated healthcare expenses. Over $21,000 was raised throughout 5 months by over 340 donors.

When asked about the actions of his UofL family, Booker said, “I was so taken back. I truly felt blessed. I didn’t even know that I impacted people like that. To everyone who donated hours, who donated money, who reached out saying they were praying for me – all I can tell you is thank you. I don’t know how to ever re-pay you. It truly was one of those things I’ll never forget. It really did touch me.”

Booker went on to highlight the impact of his supervisor, Kari Donahue. Donahue helped promote the GoFundMe page started by Booker’s family. Through Donahue’s coordination and commitment, Booker was able to maintain his full salary despite his months of intensive care.

“She fought tooth and nail to make sure people knew my story. She wanted people to know that one of her employees was going through it, and that alone speaks volumes. We truly are a community within the workplace,” Booker said. “To know an employer is standing beside you like that – it makes you love and enjoy where you work and what you do even more.”


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