Place of Residence: North Bethesda, Maryland
At age 41, Maria was living her best life and enjoying an active lifestyle filled with work, friends, travel, and leisure activities. Her world abruptly changed when she was hospitalized with COVID for 130 days – 69 of which were spent on ECMO life support. Maria’s family was told many times that they should be prepared to lose her. Now Maria has some lingering medical issues to deal with, but as a survivor she shares her story to help educate others about the potential dangers of COVID-19 and the importance of vaccination.
Maria shares the story of how she almost lost her life to COVID.
How would you describe yourself? What are some of your favorite things to do?
In 2020 at age 41, I was living my best single life. I had celebrated my 40th birthday with trips to Costa Rica, Iceland and Spain with my close friends and I was enjoying an active social life. Some of my favorite things to do is try new restaurants and happy hours and enjoying all of what Washington D.C. has to offer! I was also very committed to my yoga practice and a military bootcamp-style gym called SOLDIERFIT.
How did you first become sick and how were you feeling? At what point did you know your illness was serious?
In late October 2020, I started to feel sick but after two negative PCR tests I was diagnosed with a virus and a urinary tract infection. I isolated and kept feeling worse. After a trip to the emergency room, I was diagnosed with COVID and double pneumonia (meaning I had pneumonia in both of my lungs). I had a terrible headache, fever and bad insomnia. I was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) overnight and then spent two days at a rehabilitation facility before I was once again sent home. Two days later I called 911 and was rushed back to the ICU with a blood oxygen level of just 40%. I spent 12 days in the ICU and was placed on a BiPap machine to help me breathe. On the night of November 13th, I was intubated, sedated and rushed to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD where I was placed on life support including extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and a ventilator.
What was your experience while in the hospital?
I went into the hospital in November 2020 and I didn’t wake up until February 2021. I had been on ECMO for 69 days and in the ICU for over four months. My family had been told many times to prepare to lose me. My sister had already started writing my eulogy. I overcame several infections, a blood clot, three blood transfusions, multiple lung collapses, and severe sedation drug withdrawal. At the Johns Hopkins Hospital, I was the first ECMO/tracheotomy patient to be proned (which involves putting a patient in respiratory distress on their stomach) and I was the first patient to survive being on ECMO for 69 days. I was finally able to return home on March 4, 2021 after two weeks of acute rehabilitation.
Were you vaccinated?
When I got sick there were no COVID-19 vaccines. When I woke up there were 3! I got vaccinated as soon as I was medically able to and am now fully vaccinated.
What do you want others to know about COVID vaccination? What advice would you give them if they don’t think vaccines are important?
When it comes to getting vaccinated, I want people to consider the alternative – I was lucky, but over 600,000 Americans were not.
Are you suffering from any long-term complications as a result of your COVID illness?
As a result of my COVID-19 illness, I’ve experienced fatigue, muscle atrophy, nerve compression and vocal chord injury.
What are you doing to help raise awareness now?
I’m sharing my story in hopes that I can help others realize the potential dangers of COVID-19 and the importance of vaccination. To help with my own journey as well as that of others, I’m also involved in some COVID survivor groups and have started a non-profit to help others like me.
Maria is now a strong vaccine advocate and shares her story to remind others that everyone is at risk from COVID and vaccination can help protect our families and communities.