Insights from a COVID Survivor: A Long Road to Recovery
Aug 29, 2022

Maria Young is a COVID survivor and an advocate for vaccination. Read her insights from a COVID survivor here, and read more about her story and the stories of others impacted by vaccine preventable diseases at our Personal Stories hub

I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. It was mid-February 2021, and I was lying in a hospital bed at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland wondering what had happened to me. The last memory I had before this was mid-November 2020 when I knew I was being transferred to Baltimore from a local hospital. I do not remember understanding just how sick I was.

A few weeks before I had contracted COVID-19 from an unknown source. I had two false negative PCR tests before finally being diagnosed with COVID and double pneumonia. Though I was concerned, I like many others assumed I would be okay in a few weeks. I was young, active and had no pre-existing health conditions. After spending the night in the intensive care unit (ICU) and two days at a rehabilitation facility, I was sent home. However, two days later I had never felt sicker, and I called an ambulance. On the ride to the hospital my oxygen level was at 40% when it should be in the upper 90s.

For the next two weeks I stayed in a local hospital with oxygen support from various types of masks. I agreed to participate in a research study at the Johns Hopkins Hospital on COVID’s impact on eyesight and we were waiting for an available bed there. Over the next two weeks I struggled to keep my oxygen levels up. At the time, the medical staff did not realize how oxygen deprivation from COVID caused hypoxia, which led me to be in a confused state, causing me to refuse ventilator support twice. Eventually I became so sick the decision was taken away from me and I was sedated, intubated, and transferred via ambulance to Baltimore. Next thing I knew, it was February 2021 and three months had passed.

I remember watching the news on TV in a hospital bed, and they were talking about three vaccines that were available to protect us from COVID-19. I felt a sense of relief that this would help get us out of the pandemic. Over time, I came to understand what COVID had done to my body. My lungs were completely overtaken by the virus to the point that I had no lung function. I had been connected to a machine called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for 69 days. ECMO is the highest level of available life support, and it is usually only available in the largest U.S. hospitals and medical centers.

I was not expected to survive. My family and friends went through a very difficult time and had to have very serious discussions about the real possibility that I would lose my life to COVID. I had several lung collapses, three blood transfusions, many infections, a severe eye infection – and yet I was one of the lucky ones to survive. My body had literally fought a war. I was so weak I could not move or change the channel on the TV. I went through severe sedation drug withdrawals and had to relearn how to walk and care for myself.

Almost two years after my initial infection, I am still not the same person I was before – physically or emotionally. My parents and sister were able to get their first COVID-19 vaccine the day I was released from the hospital after 130 days. I was vaccinated as soon as I was medically cleared to do so. With available vaccines, I was grateful that others would not have to suffer the trauma my family and friends did. Or the seemingly impossible task of the recovery I faced.

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A year and a half later we are still fighting COVID and its ever-changing variants. For some, life has gone back to normal. Not because the pandemic is over, but because they have decided to just carry on as they did before. Not all of us can go back to how things were before. We are forever changed by the hardships we endured. It is hard to understand those who do not acknowledge the severity of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, or the importance of protecting themselves and others by getting vaccinated. It is especially scary that routine vaccination rates have declined – putting children, adults and communities at risk.

I will continue to do my part. I will continue to wear a mask and take appropriate precautions so that I hopefully don’t get another COVID infection. I will continue to be careful about who I spend time with and the places I go. I will continue to tell my story in the hopes that someone considers the risks of remaining unprotected against this virus. I will continue to get recommended boosters and hope that as we understand this virus more, effective preventive measures and treatments can continue to advance. But most of all, I will continue to hope that no one else has to go through what I did – if they choose to protect themselves by getting vaccinated.


Read more about Maria’s story as a COVID survivor and explore the stories of others impacted by vaccine preventable diseases at our Personal Stories hub

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