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After being in a coma, patient makes a miraculous recovery at the hospital she worked at for 30 years

Despite not being able to speak, Faye Matthews urged providers to send her to VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s Hundley Center because of the hospital’s attentive and dedicated care teams.

A couple sits in a couple chairs. Warren and Faye Matthews have a long professional history with VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, and experienced the care from the patient side this past year.

By Kristy Fowler

Faye Matthews, of South Hill, had just returned from a vacation in eastern Europe with her husband and friends. It was fall of 2022, and she contracted COVID-19. After a week, she recovered with only lingering headaches, which she attributed to long COVID. A couple days later, her husband, Warren Matthews, came in to check on her and found her unconscious.

“I can’t describe to you how sick she was,” Warren said.

After Warren called Southside Rescue Squad, Faye was taken by ambulance to VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. There she was diagnosed with listeria meningitis, which can be acquired by eating unpasteurized dairy. She was admitted to the hospital, remaining in a coma. She experienced atrial fibrillation, a brain bleed and a stroke. Three days later she was transferred to the neurological intensive care unit at VCU Medical Center. She didn’t wake up for three weeks.

When Faye finally regained consciousness, she could hear the nurses talking about transferring her to skilled care facilities in the Richmond area. She was unable to speak; but having worked at CMH for more than 30 years, she wrote on a piece of paper, “I want to go home to The Hundley Center!”

“I have made a remarkable recovery and it is thanks to the care of The Hundley Center staff,” she wrote in a letter to hospital administrators after five weeks in skilled care. “All the staff were kind, friendly and attentive.”

Support system inside and out

Warren stayed by her side throughout the ordeal, though he couldn’t speak with her for a full month. Having served CMH as general counsel for 33 years, he is no stranger to the good care provided in South Hill.

“Care at every level was exemplary,” Warren said. “It was not special just for us; anyone who touches CMH or VCU Medical Center gets the same quality care.”

Her three children, who are spread out all over the country, all came home so she always had two people with her throughout her hospital stays.

Team members, like Shirley Gibson, associate vice president at VCU Health, frequently checked in and offered support to Faye and her family.  It’s something Gibson in particular does often with patients from South Hill and the surrounding community. As a member of the CMH Foundation Board of Directors, she wants to make sure everyone is receiving quality care during their time with the close-knit hospital community.

“Faye was very special because of our nursing backgrounds. We worked closely together while she was at CMH because I was a member of the CMH Foundation Board of Directors when Faye served as the Executive Director,” Gibson said.

Community members offered prayers, meals and cards, which gave Faye and her family the spiritual, physical and emotional support she needed to recover.

The long road to recovery

In January, Faye started physical, occupational and speech therapy at CMH Rehab Services, located in the Hendrick Cancer and Rehab Center which she will wrap up in September.

“We are so fortunate to have a complete line of therapy here locally,” she said.

Former coworkers are also keeping a close eye on Faye as she recovers, showing how the bonds built at CMH don’t go away when someone leaves the hospital.

Ursula Butts, a former coworker, regularly goes on walks with Faye around the neighborhood. It started with just a few steps when Faye was discharged and worked up to three miles just last week.

“Faye’s determination to improve is a large step in her success,” Butts said. “Faye is not only a former coworker but has been a dear friend for about fifty years. We worked together at Richmond Memorial in the 1970s and then again here at CMH on her return to the area.” 

Several months after being discharged from her initial illness, Faye experienced two more strokes. She spent several weeks at Sheltering Arms Institute’s main campus just west of Short Pump. The Institute was created through a collaboration between Sheltering Arms and VCU Health, bringing comprehensive physical therapy and rehabilitative care together in a state-of-the-art facility.

While her road to recovery is long, the collaborative and comprehensive approaches to care across the VCU Health System are helping Faye to take the steps.

“If the hospital had not been here, she wouldn’t be alive today,” Warren said. “Well, she may be here, but not in the condition she is in.”

“I am the result of excellent medical care and caring; I am a miracle,” she said. “The Good Lord must have something else planned for me, because I am still here.”

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