MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — From living the everyday routine of being a substitute teacher and assistant coach, to being on the brink of death, Mason Fox experienced just how quick life can change.
Fox was a full-time and long-term substitute film production teacher and assistant girls soccer coach in Upshur County. He enjoyed going to work and seeing the smiles on his middle schooler’s faces every day. Mason Fox was passionate about working with the students and being a mentor for those who may not have had a great home life. “I do belong in a classroom, since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be in the classroom,” he said.
Everything changed when Fox fell very sick from COVID-19 in October of 2021. Being a past college lacrosse athlete at Davis & Elkins College and having no medical problems, this experience came as a shock. After testing positive at a Med Express, physicians told Fox that since he was young, being 27 at the time, he would be fine going home and just staying hydrated. He did just that, but told 12 News that he just continued to get more sick, and had to call the ambulance three times before he decided to go to WVU Medicine St. Joseph’s Hospital in Buckhannon on October 3. He was severely dehydrated and kept going unconscious upon arrival, they did a chest x-ray to find that he had double pneumonia. Doctors told Fox that he needed to try to get up and moving or he was going to die.
The very next day, he was told he had to be life flighted to the J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown because there was nothing else the doctors could do to help him. After being talked into getting intubated, the doctors were told he was too critical to move, but he had to get to Ruby before he did die. He then fell into a medically induced coma for four to five days.
After waking up, Fox did not know where he was and was unable to talk due to his tracheotomy. He received Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) support; he would have died without it, according to J.W. Awori Hayanga, M.D., M.P.H., founding director of the ECMO Program at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute. He was also on a ventilator from going into complete respiratory failure.
There was a time in Fox’s journey in the hospital when he did see the bright light that so many have said to have seen before. He said, “I remember seeing a figure walking toward me, and it was my father who passed away in 2012, and I remember looking at him and going, ‘are you here to take me home?’ But first, I’m like so scared because I’m just like ‘wow, this is it.’ And he just looked so good.”
As he was talking to a 12 News reporter, Fox began to become teary-eyed reliving that moment.
When everything went back to black, he begged God to help him get through this. When he woke up, all he could think about was getting back to teaching his kids.
When Fox would ask the doctors if he was dying, they kept telling him that he was not, but in reality, he was. He said that if they told him he was dying, he probably would have given up, so he is thankful they did that.
He was released from the hospital in mid-November but had to learn how to walk and eat again. Fox went to Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Morgantown for about a week, but felt he was released too soon. There were no documents releasing Fox to go back to work, but after the first of January, he tried to go back to work full time.
“It was just so hard because there was mornings when I woke up where I had so much muscular atrophy, where I lost so much muscle in the hospital, that I couldn’t talk. They were still requiring to wear masks—it was hard for me to wear a mask. You know, and, I just couldn’t do it.” Fox felt as if he was pushed to go back to work, because mentally he was ready to be there with his students, but physically, he was still in recovery. There were days that Fox had to call off so that he did not feel like he was a liability.
A primary care doctor advised him that he did not need to work, he needed to rest. She wrote a note for Fox to give to his employers, and not long after, Fox said that his workplace called and let him go.
Fox lost his job and car and almost lost his apartment. Thankfully, his roommate was very understanding and helpful when it came to rent and bills. Resources were scarce as Fox tried to find assistance and applied for disability but was denied. Since getting out of the hospital, Fox has gone septic due to a problem with his teeth from the ventilator. He only has 75% of his lungs left, there is a blood clot in his neck, he has developed sleep apnea and night terrors as well as gout. Fox also goes to pulmonary rehab two days a week, and physical therapy one day a week. This does not include seeing his psychiatrist and therapist.
Fox said it was difficult to find a workplace that could accommodate to his health needs. For most, COVID-19 is “over,” but for Fox and others in his position, they have to live with that on-going experience every single day.
After losing his apartment, Fox moved to Morgantown with a friend from college and her significant other who he said have been amazing in helping him. There are days when his friends will have to come in and help him move out of bed because he can not move due to pain. As time goes on, more medications and medical experiences have been added into Fox’s routine; it has been a huge adjustment.
As of April 17, Fox substitute teaches with Monongalia County Schools, but is still in recovery. He told the organization his story and he said, they were very understanding and are an awesome Board of Education to work for.
Melissa Henry, PT, DPT, OCS, Fox’s physical therapist, told 12 News how his progress has been so far. “When he first came in… Trouble just talking to each other, trouble just going from a sit to stand position. To now, we’re communicating throughout the treatment, you know, laughing having fun while we’re doing more robust or vigorous exercise, that doesn’t just involve movement in one place, but movement in—kinda throughout the clinic here. And as Mason indicated, there’s been some setbacks along the way, you know, there’s definitely been new things about COVID that I’ve learned.” She knew Fox before he came in after getting COVID and was shocked to hear the experience he had.
According to the physical therapist, there is no set date for when Mason Fox will be in full recovery, but she does not want him to look at it like he is managing his COVID, but more so, he is managing his well-being.
Fox said his college athlete mentality wanted his recovery to happen over night, but this whole experience has taught him patience. He feels that his story is important to tell because the media focused on how many people died from COVID and not who actually survived. Fox thanks God for getting him through a lot, and he knows that he will continue to guide him through the thick and thins of his journey.
“Anybody that watches or reads this could say, ‘you know what, I don’t care,’ but there’s always going to be that one person, whether it be you or another person that is going to say, ‘that gives me hope.’ That’s why I want to tell my story.”
Fox wants everyone to know that he will not give up, that he beat the 5% chance that could have taken his life. Mason Fox said he is always there to talk if anyone ever needs anything, he would like to be a motivational speaker at some point in his journey, and would love to get back to his students full-time. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last but absolutely not least, Fox would like to thank the following for their dedication, care, and love through his entire experience:
- WVU Medicine St. Josephs Hospital and staff
- Jeremiah Hayanga, MD, MPH, FACS
- Melissa Henry, PT, DPT, OCS
- WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital and ECMO Team
- Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Steve Lilley – Being there for Fox and making hard and terrifying decisions to do what they could to keep him alive.
- Mason Fox’s friend, her fiancé, and family – For helping and offering what they can to be there for him.
- Teischa Hillegas – Visiting while Fox was in his coma.
- Uncle Richy Hudock – Caring and helping feed Fox when he was unable to do so himself.