The road to recovery after COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for 70-year-old Jo Ann Holmes of Hopkinsville. The virus has had lingering effects on her body, as she sometimes uses a walker, easily gets short of breath and has recurring swelling that specialists in Hopkinsville and Nashville are working to diagnose.
Holmes is home and COVID-free — finally reunited with her husband of 48 years, Don Holmes — but the days leading up to her medically induced coma are a blur.
“I have to ask Don and my daughter about what happened because I really don’t remember,” Jo Ann said.
Since late March, Jo Ann has done two stints in Jennie Stuart Health intensive care unit and two stays at Trigg County Hospital Rehabilitation Center. She fought off two bouts of double pneumonia, blood clots and clostridium difficile colitis, or “C-diff” as she remembers it.
Doctors are now trying to determine why she is losing red blood cells. The after effects of the virus are a reminder that COVID-19 is real and an experience she wishes she never had.
Where she got it
Prior to contracting COVID-19, Jo Ann said she was in pretty good health.
“I had back pain prior and I had diabetes, Type 2, but it was under control,” she said. “I didn’t even take pills for (diabetes). There wasn’t anything bad going on with me.”
About two weeks before coming down with a nagging cough, Jo Ann visited the Pennyroyal Center to get a prescription filled.
“She sat in the waiting room, and about four days after, she got a letter from mental health ‘to inform you that there was a COVID-19 case sitting in the room with you,’ ” her husband recalled. “It said ‘take precautions and get protected.’ It’s a good chance she got it there.”
According to New Era archives, the Pennyroyal Center sent out a news release March 27 saying a presumptive COVID-19 case had been identified at the facility. Twenty-five patients had potentially been exposed; Jo Ann was one of them.
Jo Ann said she doesn’t blame the facility or the person for getting her sick, noting that a lot of people are asymptomatic and don’t know they have it either.
Amanda Gallaway, Jo Ann’s adult daughter, remembers vividly when the virus got real for her mother.
“She coughed for like a week and then she got so sore and started feeling weak,” Gallaway said. “Dr. Budhan said she needed to go to the ER.
“Then I had to wait to get herself together,” Gallaway said, laughing at the memory. “It took her an hour to get ready because she was trying to get her makeup on.”
For Jo Ann, makeup, hair and nails were nonnegotiable — she had to look nice if she was going to potentially stay in the hospital.
Little did she know her stay would be much longer, and primping would become an afterthought as her body fought just to breathe.
“We had to take her lashes and her wig off,” Gallaway said of the night she was admitted, “but we left her nails.”
Don, 86, wouldn’t see his wife again for 54 days.
“She left on a Monday morning,” he recalled. “I thought she was just going to the emergency room to check out her cough, but that was the last time I seen her.”
Staying in ICU
Jo Ann was put on a ventilator and tested for COVID-19. Doctors at Jennie Stuart originally diagnosed the double pneumonia that had filled her lungs, but her results for COVID-19 came back positive after she was already admitted, Don recalls.
For extreme cases of COVID-19, doctors often induce patients into a coma so their body can focus on fighting the virus. The ventilator helps them continue to breathe.
Gallaway said the first two weeks of her mom’s coma were grim.
“We were getting calls from the two main doctors telling us about the Do Not Resuscitate (order) and we ended up getting her living will out — that’s how bad it was,” she recalled. “Then the middle of the second week, we had somebody pick up a prayer blanket, which is just a small cloth that has been prayed over. The main doctor said he encouraged anything and said it was OK for the nurses to put it under her pillow.”
Although her family couldn’t be there, nurses did what they could to keep Jo Ann close to living. Don said people were praying from here to Georgia, where his two adult daughters live, and in Jackson, Tenn., where his brother is a pastor.
“She was very close to death, but we are firm believers in prayer,” he said. “She was prayed for a lot and we give God all the glory.”
The turning point
The family believes prayer and modern medicine played a major role in Jo Ann’s fight against COVID-19.
“A doctor said he was the one who decided to use an experimental drug on her, and the next day or two her vitals started going in a positive direction,” Don recalled.
Altogether, Jo Ann spent 19 days on a ventilator in the hospital’s intensive care unit and 20-plus days in the hospital after waking up from the coma.
“Waking up was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Jo Ann said.
As her eyes peeled open, Jo Ann saw a nurse in a red-and-black mask and Plexiglass everywhere.
“I thought I had been abducted by aliens,” she laughed.
Jo Ann was still unable to have family visits, but she said Facetime and phone calls helped bring back her memory.
On April 29, Jo Ann was discharged from Jennie Stuart and sent by ambulance to the swing rehabilitation program at Trigg County Hospital.
Jo Ann’s muscle mass had deteriorated from being in the hospital for so long. With the help of physical therapists, she learned to turn, walk and sit up on her own again — but pneumonia and C-diff sent her back to Jennie Stuart on May 10.
“When we got to see and visit her through a window outside at Trigg County, we both (Don and I) knew that it was not good,” Gallaway said. “That night they called and was rushing her back to Jennie Stuart.”
Gallaway believes her mom would have died if she hadn’t been sent back to ICU. During that stint, doctors found four blood clots, but Jo Ann was able to return to the Trigg County rehabilitation facility May 20.
“She was determined, and physical therapy worked with her every day at Trigg,” Gallaway said. “They couldn’t believe how fast she was progressing.”
Jo Ann returned home June 12.
Easter, Mother’s Day and their 48th wedding anniversary on April 21 had passed. Don had had “a very light case” of COVID-19 while Jo Ann was away. He had a varied temperature of 100 and pain in his chest area and upper body.
“It even hurt to dry my body off after a shower,” he said of his symptoms. “It felt like pins and needles, but I started taking Tylenol every day, and after that I felt good.”
Don finally beat the virus after several retests to be sure he was negative before seeing Jo Ann.
The couple first took a drive around town so Jo Ann could see how the world had changed over the past few months.
Businesses are operating at lower capacity, and the governor implemented a mask mandate that Jo Ann said she believes was the right thing to do.
As far as getting her life back, Jo Ann said she was excited to return to church at Edgewood Baptist where Don was one of the founders. Jo Ann used to teach a women’s Sunday school class and played the piano for several area churches.
”I haven’t sat down at the piano yet to see if I still have it,” she said.