Dedicated nurse helped Judge Derek Mosley through a harrowing night in ICU on his way to surviving coronavirus

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Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge Derek Mosley talks about contracting COVID-19 and his recovery. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Derek Mosley knew it was bad.

Nearly four years after undergoing a successful kidney transplant, he was back at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin, admitted in late March.

He was in the Intensive Care Unit, in the fight of his life against COVID-19.

Mosley’s blood oxygen level was dangerously low and one night a doctor told him at that stage in the illness, he had to lie on his stomach, open his airways.

“He was sort of putting the fear of God into me of how important it was,” Mosley said. “We had to get the blood oxygen up. It freaked me out. At that point, it made me realize if this bottoms out that’s all she wrote.”

If the numbers didn’t rise, he faced the possibility of being intubated and placed on a ventilator to assist his breathing.

Mosley was terrified.

For himself. For his wife, Kelly Cochrane. For his daughters, Kallan and Kieran.

And he was alone.

Christin Lissmann, a registered nurse on the night shift in the ICU, saw how fearful Mosley was.

A Florida native who arrived here around a year ago, she had little idea about his background and his place in Milwaukee. To her, he was simply “Mr. Mosley in bed 19.”

To others, though, he’s a City of Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge, an ebullient figure who mentors youth, officiates countless weddings, provides support and inspiration.

Lissmann spoke with Mosley’s wife and suggested that they do a video chat.

The nurse set up an iPad. And then she got on her protective gear, the kind she said makes her look like “a space trooper.”

And she went into see Mosley, who was lying on his stomach.

She held the iPad as Mosley talked and laughed and listened and cried. And Lissmann also began to cry, fogging up her mask.

When the conversation ended, Mosley said he thought, “That could be it, that could be the last time I talked with my family.”

He lay on his stomach, thinking he might die alone. And it was all happening so fast, from the illness initially showing signs with congestion and then a cough, followed by difficulty breathing, which led to Mosley taking a COVID-19 test.

And when the result came back positive, he was rushed to the hospital emergency room by his wife.

Dropped off. Maybe to never see her again.

And here he was, around eight days into his hospital stay, contemplating his mortality.

But Lissmann saw something else.

“What Derek received in that phone call was something medical science can’t bottle, can’t put into a pill, can’t put that into someone’s IV,” she said. “We need other people. We need that love from our families and that support. It really drives healing in a way medical science can’t. We can do a lot of things. There’s no substitute for that. The hope that they gave him. Just seeing them is a key part of why he pulled through that night.”

A half hour after the call, Lissmann was back.

She moved near the head of the bed, knelt down so Mosley could see her face, and then reached out and grabbed his hand.

And she told him: “I just want you to know, you’re not alone. I’m going to be there with you and we’ll both get through this together.”

“It changed everything,” Mosley said. “She gave me hope.”

Lissmann said she told Mosley: “I’m yours till 7 in the morning. I’ll be there. If things don’t go the way we want them, don’t be afraid. I don’t want you to be afraid. I got you. I’ll be with you the whole time. If we do have to put in a breathing tube, I’ll never stop fighting for you and advocating for you.”

She made him another promise: to be there at sunrise.

Mosley made it through the night.

And Lissmann was there in the morning.

Those moments will be part of their lives forever.

Mosley is the kind of patient you’ll never forget. And Lissmann is the nurse who put it all on the line, worked as part of a cohesive team that provided care for Mosley in his darkest hour.

‘It changes everything’

Mosley, who does not know how he contracted the disease worries about the toll taken on front line staff at hospitals, the strain and stress faced by doctors and nurses fighting against an insidious virus.

“Even with the whole kidney transplant there was no time during that transplant process where I thought I could die,” he said. “This was the first time in my life where I honestly thought I was going to die. And I’ve never been there before. And once you get to that point it changes everything.”

Mosley said Lissmann and all the others working in the ICU remained upbeat and professional.

“They were seeing death every day; it was wearing on them as well,” Mosley said.

In these past few weeks, Lissmann said she has learned a lot about “the power of gratitude and really not taking a day of life for granted.”

“Five minutes on an iPad, one would never think that could change an entire life,” she said. But over and over, she has seen that power take hold, the power of human connection.

“There are beautiful stories of survival and we celebrate them because they are seeds,” she said. “These people who survive they didn’t just willy-nilly their way through hospitalization. They fought like soldiers because they had to. Unfortunately the patient who passed away, fought just as hard.”

Lissmann is busy. She’s a full-time nurse, a full-time student at Marquette University, pursuing a doctoral degree as a nurse practitioner.

She and her husband, an engineer, moved here from the Florida Keys after he got a job. They’ve lived apart for six weeks, Lissmann fearful of bringing home the virus because her husband has an underlying medical condition.

She thinks about the patients, the ones who have survived and others who have not.

Mosley is among the lucky ones. He got out of ICU, was released from Froedtert and for the last few weeks has been at home, hunkered down, reading, waiting for life to return to a new normal.

He calls Lissmann his guardian angel.

That’s at least the second one in his life.

After all, almost four years ago, Municipal Court Judge JoAnn Eiring of the Town of Brookfield gave Mosley a gift of life, her kidney.

Mosley is forever grateful for his life, his health, his family.

He made it through the fire of COVID-19.

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