Affiliated Organizations
  HN Medical Partners   School of Nursing   HNH Fitness   Villa Marie Claire   Simulation Learning   Haiti Health Promise
Medical Partners Offices
Cardiovascular Specialists University Orthopaedic Pulmonary Specialists Obstetrics & Gynecology North Jersey Heart North Jersey Surgical Surgical Specialistss Primary Care Specialty Assoc. Urologic Specialties Women's Health Care

Ed Pierce

A Miracle in a Pandemic

Holy Name Patient Stories - Ed Pierce

Ed Pierce's memories of his hospital stay are still foggy. He remembers waking up and feeling like he was in a war zone or maybe it was the set of one of the Broadway shows he designs. Within bare plywood walls, everyone was walking around in head-to-foot protective gear and patients in the beds next to him weren't moving.

"I was alert enough to know I was in surreal surroundings," Ed said. "And I remember a poster a nurse had made, it was pinned to the curtains surrounding my bed and said something about 'keep my feet moving' or some other inspirational message. I always looked at that — whatever foggy state I was in, that kept me going. It made me want to stay alive."

Ed was battling COVID-19, one of hundreds of patients treated for the virus at Holy Name Medical Center, where he also made medical history — the first person in the U.S. to receive healthy birth placenta cells to fight the disease. He believes it saved his life.

Ed's condition worsens

Ed is a Tony-nominated set designer, who worked on Wicked, Angels in America — the show for which he was nominated — To Kill a Mockingbird, Billy Elliot, Ragtime and a host of other productions. A husband and father of three teenagers, Ed was admitted to Holy Name a week after falling ill and with his oxygen levels plummeting. He wouldn't see his wife, Michelle, or his kids for 48 days. Despite receiving a number of medications, including one to fight malaria that had gained widespread attention for treating COVID-19, he continued to decline.

"They brought in a breathing machine and I concentrated on every breath, trying to make that needle move," Ed said. "But when I fell asleep my breathing got shallow and my oxygen dipped dangerously low."

Dr. Benjamin De La Rosa, an infectious disease specialist, talked to Ed about being intubated. The medications weren't working, Ed was getting weaker and his lungs weren't clearing.

"I'm kind of a control freak and the concept of being asleep and not in control of my own faculties was the most unsettling thing about going on a ventilator," Ed said. "But I knew I needed to take the advice of those more cognizant of what was going on around me."

Dr. Victor Gorloff, chief of pulmonary medicine, came in to see Ed. He didn't say much but he had a nonverbal way of communicating, Ed said.

"His eyes met mine and he really connected with me," Ed said. "There was just a certain trust there and I knew I had to be intubated."

The weeks passed and the disease was ravaging Ed's body — causing kidney problems and other adverse conditions. He was given Remdesivir, a drug that sometimes stops the replication of the virus, but it didn't help.

A new idea and a miracle

As the pandemic stretched on, Holy Name's physicians and other specialists met frequently to discuss the latest research coming in from around the world. Dr. Ravit Barkama, associate vice president of clinical development, saw that Ed would be ideal for the compassionate use, if approved by the FDA, of healthy birth placenta cells. This type of treatment is being used at Holy Name within a clinical trial, the Pluristem study, for patients with vascular problems. Compassionate use of the cells in Israel showed remarkable results in six COVID-19 patients.

"It was the first day of Passover and it was our Passover miracle," Ed said. "Dr. Barkama really pushed for FDA approval — if it wasn't for her, I don't think I'd be here."

About a week after receiving the Pluristem therapy, Ed was making steady, but slow progress. He woke up in the newly constructed ICU that made him think of a set design. It was only a few days later during the move out of ICU to regular room that he remembers seeing the poster and wished he could tell someone he wanted it to come with him. But he still couldn't speak and was having trouble formulating cohesive thoughts.

"I was in a plastic pod when I was wheeled out," Ed said. "I didn't quite understand why all these people were clapping and cheering me on."

Ed had no idea he had been given a groundbreaking treatment and didn't realize how much time had passed since he entered the hospital. He knew Broadway was closed, but couldn't grasp the big picture of the country shutdown. During their FaceTime sessions, Michelle didn't tell him what was going on with the pandemic.

"I didn't want the stress to impede his recovery," Michelle said.

Ed did try watching the news, once. "I turned on the TV, and saw the politicians still fighting so I turned it off and didn't watch it again."

A team of caregivers

Finally, Ed's improvement picked up momentum. He was taken off the ventilator and graduated from pureed food to a regular diet. Physical therapists helped Ed sit in a chair, then stand and walk.

While the staff did "an amazing job in an unprecedented time of chaos," a few people stand out in Ed's mind for the extra care and humanity they showed him. His physician, Dr. Michael Denker, chief of internal medicine, "was the backbone of my care. He reviewed my chart morning, noon and night and was in constant contact with my family."

Scott Cooper, the director of professional practice, and Ed have a close mutual friend. "Scott made it a personal mission to look after me. His care made such a difference to my family and me."

Jeff Rhode, a staff photographer, spent time just talking with Ed after taking photographs. "He was much more than a photojournalist. He was really a comrade — he stayed with me through my MRI, was there when I left the hospital and when I arrived home. Maybe that's a testament to the type of people Holy Name employs."

Four days after leaving the ICU, Ed was discharged from the hospital. Before leaving, a parade of ICU nurses came to wish him well.

"They had tears in their eyes," Ed said. "In a world then with little hope, I was their hope. I felt so emotional, though I didn't understand why I was such a big deal. I realized, though, that Holy Name nurses always treated me as a person, not just a patient. They really cared that I got well."

Ed had touched so many lives while at Holy Name, many he never met but who were pulling for him to recover. When he left, employees flocked from all parts of the hospital to clap and see him off. Felicia Temple, a nurse at Holy Name and a contestant on The Voice, taped the song, Defying Gravity, from Wicked, so it could be played as he left.

Now, he's just thrilled to be home with his family.

"With the stay-at-home directive still in place, I have a lot less pressure to get back to life," Ed said. "And Holy Name home care has been involved 110 percent — nurses, physical, occupation and speech therapists — they are making sure I have a complete recovery. I'm so thankful I was chosen to be the first recipient of the Pluristem therapy and in many ways, this was the catalyst for our miracle."