For more than four decades, Gallatin resident and retired educator James Story has spread his love for music to countless students and others across Sumner County. 

However, when the 64-year-old became hospitalized for more than 70 days earlier this year after contracting Covid-19, it was his consistent public postings on social media that helped educate others about the very real potential dangers of the virus. Since returning home, Story has continued to comfort and inspire others across the country by sharing his near-death experience. 

It is for these reasons that the Gallatin News has chosen Story as the 2020 Gallatin Citizen of the Year.

“I just share my journey and try to give people hope and encouragement,” Story said about the support he has given to others diagnosed with Covid-19. “I was born a teacher and I think that part of me has come out to help inform people.”

Pandemic becomes ‘real’

Hired by Sumner County Schools in 1977, Story first taught band and chorus in White House before later moving to Gallatin High School. He was recruited by Volunteer State Community College in 1997 to help develop their music education and recording industry program and remained at the college until his retirement in June 2018.

In March, Story was admitted to TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center after being diagnosed with Covid-19. While there, he spent 15 days on a ventilator before being transferred to another facility in Nashville.

Story initially began posting updates about his health on Facebook after rumors had begun to circulate that the soon to be 65-year-old had died from the virus. Some people even called area funeral homes to see about arrangements.

“I just found that social media was a platform to give people hope and let them know how I was doing,” said Story who spent a total of one month in intensive care. “Not only was it about me, but I wanted others to see what the healthcare professionals were going through. They come in day in and day out trying to save lives. It’s one of the greatest professions that I know of and I’ll be eternally grateful for (them).”

After spending a total of 71 days at three different area hospitals, Story was released from Sumner Regional Medical Center in Gallatin on May 28.

Doctors, nurses and therapists lined the hallway outside his room and cheered him on to celebrate his return home. Outside, Story was greeted by a group of well-wishers that included former students and choir members from Gallatin First United Methodist Church who sang “Oh Happy Day” as he left.

A video of the performance has been viewed more than 114,000 time since it was posted on the Gallatin News’ Facebook page later that same day.

“James Story’s experience with Covid-19, which happened very early on in this pandemic, was one of the ways that people knew that this was real,” Gallatin First United Methodist Church Senior Pastor James Johnson said. “There was a sense of reality by having someone that is so beloved go through this and that this isn’t just happening in some other place.

“His story is one that has touched a lot of different folks’ lives.”

‘Long hauler’

Since returning home from the hospital, Story has joined a private Covid-19 survivors’ support group on Facebook that has more than 6,000 members from across the country who share their struggles with the virus.

His near-death experience has also been featured on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and impacted others from across the country.

“There was a lady from Florida who saw the CBN piece and messaged me on Facebook,” Story recalled while becoming emotional. “She said my story had changed her life, her belief and her faith. It was overwhelming.”

Locally, Story has offered encouragement and prayed with friends, former students and colleagues who have contacted him after being diagnosed with Covid-19. His support of others began even before being released from the hospital.

“When the nurses at Sumner Regional were taking care of him, he was a person who offered prayer for them and thanked them for their service,” Johnson recalled. “His faith isn’t just about getting him well, but it’s also about caring for the people caring for him.”

Since returning home from the hospital, Story has been dubbed a “long hauler” – someone who suffers long-term coronavirus symptoms. He has lost 20 percent of his lung capacity and still has nerve damage in his right thigh and foot.

Story said his experience with Covid-19 has helped him put his life more into perspective and realize that he is “very blessed and that there are a lot of people that genuinely care and support me.”

“I had to go through this whole thing alone,” Story said. “It makes you more grateful and thankful for the simple things in life and it makes you most grateful for friends and family.”

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