A Colorado man has a new outlook on life after he spent 158 days in the hospital battling a severe case of COVID-19.
Nate McWilliams was finally cleared to leave Colorado's Swedish Medical Center on Thursday, marking the end of a terrifying journey for him and his family, according to CBS affiliate KCNC.
"This is unbelievable. I feel good. It's a beautiful day to be going home," McWilliams, 55, told the outlet as he was wheeled out of the hospital beside a parade of cheering nurses, doctors and staffers.
"I'm glad to be alive," the father of three added to ABC affiliate KMGH. "This is for real. You got to take this seriously and get your vaccination because if not, you don't want to be where I was at."
McWilliams was first admitted to the hospital on June 26 after his wife, Brenda Bailey, noticed that he was having difficulty breathing, KCNC reported.
McWilliams — who, in addition to his wife, was unvaccinated at the time — was given steroids, antivirals and anti-inflammatories before being placed on an ECMO machine, according to the outlet.
For the next 91 days, McWilliams stayed on that machine, which acts as an artificial lung, as his body attempted to fight off the virus.
"There was plenty of times I didn't think he was going to make it," Bailey recalled to KCNC.
"I will confess, I was disheartened by day 30," McWilliams' primary doctor, Dr. Luciano Lemos-Filho, told KMGH. "His lungs were not getting better."
At one point, things got so dire that Bailey was forced to plan for the worst.
"It got to the point where I was planning a funeral," she said, according to CBS affiliate WLKY. "[His condition was] minute-to-minute, probably hour-to-hour, for a long time."
RELATED VIDEO: NYC Hospital Releases 1,000th Patient Recovering From COVID-19
But eventually, McWilliams' health started to improve — thanks, in part, to his team of doctors and nurses, and his loyal wife of 24 years.
"I always told myself, as long as we have no other elements go wrong, if his kidneys stay good, his heart stays good, and there's no signs of cognitive functions to where he's in a vegetative state, I said, 'We have to keep going no matter what it takes,'" Bailey told KCNC.
"It's pretty remarkable," nurse Madison Babb, who treated McWilliams in the ICU, told NBC affiliate KUSA.
"He had so many bumps in the road, and there were times where we just had to maintain every single day," she added to KMGH.
After improving enough to be taken off the ECMO machine and ventilator, McWilliams was transferred to a rehab facility inside the hospital, where he spent the last month regaining his strength, according to KCNC.
In the meantime, his wife — who previously tested positive for COVID at home — got the vaccine and has been encouraging friends and family to do the same, the outlet reported.
"Don't wait until you get sick," Bailey told KCNC. "I don't think we would have spent the last five and a half months in the hospital if he would have had the shot, even one dose of the vaccine."
Finally, McWilliams was ready to return home — and on Thursday, a couple of weeks after his 55th birthday, he had a cheerful exit amid a crowd of people who have supported him since day one, KMGH reported.
"To see him walking and be able to go home is very emotional because we fought so hard to get them to that point. I'm really happy," Babb told the outlet.
With his second chance at life, McWilliams said he's most excited to cook ribs, spend time with family and "see my mom again," according to KMGH. He's also urging others to get the vaccine.
"People have just got to get the shot," he told KUSA.
Above all, McWilliams is just excited to embrace each new day — something that he now knows isn't a guarantee.
"You never know," McWilliams told KMGH. "You could lose it just like that."
"If I'd probably got the shot, I might have been in a little less of a situation than I was in today," McWilliams added to KCNC. "You have to fight. Anybody out there, if you get sick, don't doubt yourself. Stay positive."
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.