“Jake had one of the biggest smiles,” Susan Martin said, describing her son. “I would have loved to have seen the smile on his face when he got to heaven, because he could see how much love that was shown to him during that time. I'm sure that he probably thought ‘wow, that was all for me?’”
Family and friends from as far away as Africa were praying for Jake Martin when he was admitted to a Newnan hospital in early September last year. He had tested positive for COVID-19 and developed difficulty breathing.
Jake’s family hoped to move him to Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton for treatment once he stabilized, but his condition didn’t improve.
“There were a lot of ups and downs over the next seven days. He was getting better, then he didn’t get better and then he really didn’t get better,” said his mother.
Every day, family gathered outside of the hospital to pray for Jake’s recovery as COVID restrictions had limited visitation for loved ones. When Martin looked up at her son’s hospital room, what she saw lifted her heart.
A yellow cross and colorful hearts had been placed on his windows. Yellow was Jake’s favorite color. The family would later learn that it was a caring nurse who had put them there. As they prayed below his decorated window, Jake fought for his life.
By Sept. 15, he had developed pneumonia and was soon put on a ventilator.
“They had to insert a chest tube because of all of the fluid that was building up,” Martin said. “When they opened him, he went into cardiac arrest. They lost him and he was resuscitated.”
As his outlook worsened, Jake’s doctors recommended that he be put on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine. “The only chance he had was the ECMO machine,” said family friend Steve Adams.
ECMO machines essentially take over for the heart and lungs, and can keep someone in distress alive, giving a patient crucial time to heal.
Yet few hospitals had this expensive technology or the medical staff to use it. Each ECMO machine requires a specially trained nurse, 24 hours a day.
“His heart and his lungs were giving out,” said Martin. “We were desperate.” Family and friends called hospitals across the country but couldn't find an available machine.
“The doctors were determining who had the best chance at survival,” said Adams. “And with Jake – the cardiac arrest did a lot of damage to his heart. So even though he was 19 years old, that automatically pushed him down the list. It was like war time; they were looking at who would survive.”
“Everyone at Tanner was doing everything they could for us,” said Martin. “And people across the state really helped us. We kept saying, if Jake only knew how many people were doing everything in their power to try to get him to an ECMO machine to give him that chance.
“It really moved me that when it comes down to a situation like this, people around you will do whatever they can do to help.”
After 48 hours, Jake became too fragile to be moved and had no chance of recovery.
“His dad and I decided to take him off the ventilator and let him go peacefully,” Martin said. “I was able to go say goodbye the day before he passed away. I was able to hold his hand, but I wore gloves and a mask because of COVID. I didn't get to give him a hug. That was hard.”
Jake Martin was 19 years old when he died on Sept. 19, 2021.
When a child of any age dies, families try to make sense of their unimaginable loss. Hope can emerge through faith and by celebrating the life of the child they loved.
Jake’s family honors him by saving the lives of others. They established the Jake Martin Memorial Fund at Tanner Foundation to fund two ECMO machines at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton.
The community that rallied around Jake will soon benefit from the ECMO machines that will be vital for Tanner’s upcoming open-heart surgery program at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton. Construction on two state-of-the-art surgical suites will be complete this year, and surgeries will be performed beginning in January 2023.
“We are deeply grateful to Jake Martin’s family for their generous support of innovative technologies like the ECMO machine,” said Loy Howard, president and CEO of Tanner. “Donations from generous individuals like Susan Martin, the Stone family and the Adams family provide us with the critical resources we need to give our patients the highest quality care and their families new hope.”
“I want our community to have these ECMO machines because in Carroll County, or Haralson County, even in Newnan — where Jake was — there’s the possibility that it will be the only ECMO machine available,” said Martin.
“Jake’s life had so much promise. If any families ever have to go through what we went through, I want them to have that one chance.”
To support the Jake Martin Memorial Fund at Tanner Foundation, please visit TannerFoundation.org
or call 770-812-GIFT (4438).