A near-death encounter with the coronavirus has completely changed Tennessee state Representative David Byrd’s opinion on COVID-19, and now he’s using his experience to encourage people to get vaccinated.

After enduring an eight-month ordeal fighting COVID in which he suffered the loss of memory and his liver, Byrd issued a statement last Friday urging his constituents to get the vaccine and protect themselves against the virus. He described his personal battle in detail:

“For 55 days, I was in an intensive care unit on a ventilator. Although ventilators save lives, the sobering reality is that the overwhelming majority of intubated Covid-19 patients do not survive.”

A year ago, the Republican legislator from Waynesboro had a much different attitude toward COVID-19. He dismissed mask-wearing policies, and attended a maskless retreat with other Republicans. He even voted on a resolution supported by other Republican lawmakers that called the media’s coverage of COVID “sensationalized” and politically motivated.

Everything changed last Thanksgiving , when Byrd fell seriously ill.

From The Tennessean:

From a COVID-19 intensive care bed at Saint Thomas Hospital in December, terror came over the Republican state legislator from Waynesboro at the thought.
He has no memory of the next 55 days, when Byrd's family knew they might begin planning a funeral as he remained on a ventilator and continued to become sicker.

Things got so bad, Byrd wrote, his liver began failing.

“Just when it seemed like I was improving, suddenly I wasn’t. My liver began to fail. I developed jaundice and was later diagnosed with Covid Cholangiopathy. I was told I would need a liver transplant or else I would die. Again, my family prepared for the worst.”

Byrd did indeed have a liver transplant on June 12. Since then, he has been improving almost daily.

MSN notes that Byrd’s district has a woefully low vaccination rate for adults:

In Wayne County, Tenn., which encompasses Byrd’s district of rural Waynesboro, less than a third of adults are fully vaccinated, according to data tracked by The Post. Wayne County’s 31 percent fully vaccinated rate is below Tennessee’s rate of 39 percent and the United States’ overall rate of 49.6 percent.

Byrd has been a controversial figure in Tennessee politics for several years ago. He’s been accused by several women of sexual assault that occurred in the 1980s when he was a high school coach, as spotlighted in a CNN report.

Now, he’s making headlines for nearly becoming another statistic in the pandemic. He said his health crisis provided clarity. And now, he wants to help others take avoid what he went through. Here is the last paragraph of his statement.

"I have never been against taking the Covid-19 vaccine, but I understand the concerns of those who are hesitant. To them, I would say Covid is real and it is very dangerous. It is a disease that wants to kill us. Please take it seriously. Please consider getting vaccinated. This is an issue that should not divide us."