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'Grateful to be alive': Colorado COVID-19 survivors share stories of weeks in the hospital

Barbara Gould COVID-19
Posted at 2:59 PM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 11:04:30-04

DENVER — Barbara Gould stayed in the hospital for 91 days. Kim Powell was out after two nights, but needed in-home care and struggles to this day to walk to her mailbox. Clarence Troutman spent nearly a month unconscious, intubated in intensive care, and had to learn how to eat again.

All three COVID-19 survivors shared their experience Tuesday in a news conference with Gov. Jared Polis, who urged Coloradans to continue to take the virus seriously as cases and hospitalizations are rising again.

The survivors' stories, Polis said, that while hospital discharge rates have improved since the onset of the pandemic — down from 15.3% mortality among hospital patients to 4.1% — the road to leaving the hospital is still difficult and recovery uncertain — and different — for many patients.

"I'm thankful to be here," said Troutman, a 59-year-old broadband technician who came down with COVID-19 in late March.

By April 4, Troutman had a fever and struggled to breathe. He was taken to a hospital by ambulance and said he woke up about 28 days later, intubated in intensive care.

"I had no idea what was going on until I woke up a month later," Troutman said.

Troutman survived but had to re-learn how to walk, talk and eat again. On June 1, after 58 days in the hospital, he was released. But even today, Troutman still had regular doctor appointments and CT scans.

"Since [being discharged], it's been a battle to get back to where you were," Troutman said.

Powell, a nurse and avid runner, contracted the virus in May. When her oxygen levels dropped, she was hospitalized for two nights. But at home, she still needed supplemental oxygen and suffered from headaches, shortness of breath and weight loss. When she finally began to feel better in August, she tried to run again, and her oxygen dropped.

Now, she still needs oxygen for anything more than a walk to her mailbox.

"My hope is that sharing my story would be to shed light in the gray area of what it would look like to be a COVID survivor," Powell said. "Many of us share it silently."

Gould became sick in March, after returning home to Colorado on a flight with her husband. Her husband got a fever, chills and fatigue, and then Gould got sick and her symptoms worsened, she said.

In early April, she felt a pressure on her chest and was admitted to a hospital. After three days there, she was intubated and then placed on a ventilator. She didn't improve after 15 days, and "my lungs were like concrete," she said.

That's when her Boulder hospital transferred her to UCHealth, where she was placed on a extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine. The machine, also known as ECMO, allows a patient's blood to bypass the heart and lungs, allowing those organs to heal, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"The ECMO was a Hail Mary," Gould said.

Even then, Gould did not show enough progress for days. At one point, doctors called her husband and told him the situation did not look good.

But Gould gradually improved and was transferred to a different hospital, where she would be weaned off a ventilator. She was then moved to a rehabilitation facility and finally able to return home on July 14.

Gould received home healthcare services until Oct. 1, though her endurance is still weak and her lungs have scarring. Also during her sickness, her hair fell out and is beginning to grow back.

"It's too soon to tell what the new normal is going to be," Gould said. "I never said, 'Why me?' Because the answer is, 'Why not me?' We just don't know. For people who think they're immune or they won't get sick, you just don't know."