When Brandy Boob, 38, developed a stuffy nose, sinus pain, and pressure in her head she attributed it to a sinus cold, something she’s familiar with and has had in the past.
Little did she think that it could be something serious. Twenty-five days later, she was on a ventilator struggling for her life and would spend a total of 22 days under sedation while doctors worked on healing her lungs from COVID-19.
Brandy lives with severe asthma and diabetes, conditions that she understood put her at a greater risk for complications from COVID-19.
“I was doing what I could to be safe, but I was working and busy raising my two sons,” says Brandy. “When someone I encountered at work tested positive, the principal at my school called to let me know. She had heard how congested I was and became very concerned.”
Brandy left a message for her doctor that day, but it was a Saturday, and she knew she probably wouldn’t hear back until Monday. She was still convinced it was just a sinus cold moving to her chest, as they usually do, but her doctor was concerned and sent her for COVID-19 testing on Tuesday morning. In the meantime, Brandy wasn’t getting any better, and on Thursday, Nov. 5, her mother took her to the emergency department at UPMC Lock Haven. In addition to her cold-like symptoms, Brandy’s blood oxygen level on the pulse oximeter was reading 80% — anything below 95% is considered low.
Positive for COVID-19
“The team at UPMC Lock Haven was wonderful,” says Brandy. “I know Colleen, a respiratory therapist, from my asthma diagnosis seven years earlier. When she said I needed to go to UPMC Williamsport for more advanced care, she reassured me that I was in good hands.”
Brandy went directly to the ICU at UPMC Williamsport. Due to visitor safety concerns, patients weren’t allowed to have visitors, so Brandy knew that she would be alone during her stay.
“The funny part is, I wasn’t alone. I told my sister that every day I spoke to my nurses, patient care technicians, nurse assistants, critical care staff, hospitalists, lab personnel, environmental services, and even food services staff. Every one of them was so kind and did their best to make me feel comfortable and cared for.”
Doctors used a recently developed treatment — convalescent plasma — on Brandy. Convalescent plasma from patients who have already recovered from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may contain antibodies against COVID-19. Giving this convalescent plasma to hospitalized people currently fighting COVID-19 may help them recover. After receiving her treatment, Brandy was moved out of ICU, but it soon became clear her lungs needed to rest to heal.
“On Nov. 22, they told me I needed to go on a ventilator,” says Brandy. “The team was very honest and made it clear to me and my family that when you go on a ventilator, there is no guarantee you will come off of it. I faced an ultimatum because the care team told me that if I didn’t go on a ventilator, I may never go home. My mother made the final decision for me and that is one of the last things I remember.”
After just a few days on the ventilator, doctors determined that Brandy’s body need additional support to heal and placed her on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine. The machine pumps your blood outside of your body to a heart-lung machine to remove carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body. It is used in critical situations when your heart and lungs need time to heal.
On Dec. 16, Brandy was taken off the ECMO machine, and the next day doctors began waking Brandy up and weaning her off the ventilator.
“I treat all my patients as if they were my own family, and during COVID-19, it was like we were family because patients’ support systems and loved ones were unable to visit,” says Michelle Bell, respiratory therapist, UPMC Williamsport. “As I cared for Brandy, it was inspiring to see her take a turn for the better, reminding me that while the days are challenging, this is why I do what I do. Brandy is a fighter; she did everything she could to beat COVID-19 to get back home to her family and win.”
The Best Day
“It’s a scary situation, and when I woke up, my nurse did everything he could to keep me calm,” says Brandy.
The day she woke up, Brandy called her mom to tell her the good news — she was off the ventilator.
Calling her providers angels, Brandy is grateful for everyone who cared for her. “My nurses and providers listened to me, cared for me, and made me feel comfortable. I knew I was getting the best care.”
Brandy herself was a blessing, as her providers expressed their gratitude for her fighting spirit giving them light and hope in dark times.
“It was very frightening to see someone my own age, fighting for her life,” says Christy Derr, RN, professional staff nurse, ICU, UPMC Williamsport. “When Brandy started to improve, she became our hope in a dark time. Brandy’s attitude was incredible. She wasn’t focused on how long she had been stuck in the hospital without her family, she was thankful to be alive. As Brandy recovered, you could stop in her room for a smile, laugh, and maybe even share a few happy tears. For those moments, I am grateful.”
“I don’t know which day was better, waking up or when I came home,” says Brandy.
Brandy was released from the hospital on New Year’s Eve, the day after her 38th birthday.
“There was a sendoff celebration when I walked out of the hospital. It was a very special moment,” says Brandy.
Making it even more special, she planned her homecoming as a surprise for her two sons who had no idea she was being released.
Thankful for UPMC
Brandy is at home healing and has physical therapy regularly to help recondition her body and lungs. She has a long road ahead of her to recovery, but she’s grateful for everyone who helped get her here.
“I don’t know where I would be without UPMC,” says Brandy. “They have the best doctors and the best team — everyone from the cardiothoracic surgeons to the food service staff. I felt like I was everyone’s priority, and they took care of me like I was part of their family.”