Miracle at UVA: Local DJ recovers from a double lung transplant after yearlong illness with COVID-19


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — “The Champ,” as he is called, was known for keeping the party going at gigs across the region, including the wildly popular Facebook parties hosted by his client and friend Claudine Ellis, a realtor and community advocate.

But one year ago, the retired U.S. Navy man who lives in Virginia Beach started experiencing breathing problems.

Dave Champion on the microphone with Claudine Ellis
(Photo courtesy: Dave Champion)

“Coughing, shortness of breath, and I would cough and pass out for no [apparent] reason,” said Dave Champion, who described symptoms he experienced beginning in February 2020 — before the novel coronavirus was given pandemic status.

(Photo courtesy: Dave Champion)

That month, he was hospitalized for two weeks for the treatment of pneumonia, the flu and vomiting. Champion says at that time, patients were not being tested for COVID-19. Over the next 10 months, with Champion getting his first COVID-19 test in April, doctor after doctor would test him for COVID-19.

The results were negative for an estimated 12 tests.

“All year, they are just telling me pneumonia, pneumonia, pneumonia,” said Champion.

Champion soldiered on, but the symptoms continued to plague the 42-year-old Navy retiree and father of three.

“By the time December came, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t bathe myself,” said Champion.

That’s when a doctor at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center decided to test Champion for coronavirus antibodies. The results came back positive. He was transported to UVA University Hospital in Charlottesville, where doctors saw the signs of impending death in Champion’s lung X-rays.

Dave Champion’s lung X-ray. (Photo courtesy: Dave Champion)

Champion was placed on the transplant list and the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Machine. It removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back into the body. He was too sick to qualify for a ventilator.

(Photo courtesy: Dave Champion)

“They said ‘You only have less time than you could ever imagine. We don’t have enough air to provide you with what you need. You have less time than you can imagine — maybe about two days,'” said Champion who is an apparent long-hauler in the coronavirus epidemic.

On Feb. 8, a double lung organ donation arrived in Charlottesville. Surgery took place the next day and on the third day, a camera was there to record what Champion calls “the miracle at UVA.”

For the first time in more than a month “The Champ” was back on his feet.

Champion has given away his DJ equipment since he currently cannot lift anything heavier than five pounds. In the future, he can only lift items under 20 pounds. Once he recovers from the transplant, he plans to focus on his photography business.

( Photo courtesy: Dave Champion)

Until then, Champion cherishes every breath he takes.

“I take deep breaths — four seconds in and breath out — that way it calms you down. It fills your lungs with air and right now I appreciate it. It is a beautiful feeling,” said Champion.

Champion takes 40 medications a day and will require around-the-clock care for four to five months. He’ll then have a month of rehabilitation.

His client and friend, Ellis, has established a GoFundMe page to help with expenses. They total $5,000 a month.

“Dave doesn’t want anything, but he has to understand and I have to talk to him about [why he must] learn to receive in this situation,” said Ellis.

The Champ hopes his story will inspire others in Hampton Roads to protect their health. If his course of recovery continues, he hopes to return to Virginia Beach in August.

“I’m grateful for the staff at UVA. I praise God that I was sent there and I praise God that they took care of me like never before,” said Champion.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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