Battling and beating COVID-19
Throughout these months of the COVID-19 pandemic, positivity and perseverance has played a key role in moving forward and returning to normal. Though there are many unknowns still regarding the virus and its effects, recoveries are happening every day, providing hope and encouragement for those who have fallen ill, as well as for their families and friends.
Lifelong Buffalo resident Jean McDonnell, age 87, tested positive for COVID-19 in early May, and her story of battling and beating the virus has been an encouraging story of perseverance for many.
On Mother’s Day, May 10, Jean McDonnell started to feel under the weather. The next day, she drove to the E.R. The doctor didn’t feel she had COVID-19 and was sent home. The next morning, she spoke with her primary doctor, Tia Larson, and she thought Jean should go back to the E.R. because the symptoms were getting worse.
Jean would then spend two-and-a-half weeks in the ICU, which included a positive test for COVID-19.
Once Jean was admitted, her son, Tom, spoke daily with her doctor, Dr. Christopher Maier, and received updates on her condition.
“He started to prepare me [for the worst],” Tom said. “He’d say, ‘You know, Tom, this is a very difficult illness on seniors. You need to prepare yourself.’”
Dr. Maier credits a lot of the work done for Jean to the nurses who spent “hours and hours” checking in and taking care of her. Taking care of COVID-19 patients was a big learning experience for all of them, dealing with patients who were sick for weeks.
“You don’t know when they’re going to get better,” Dr. Maier said. “You listen to them, validate their concern and provide support without making promises. The nurses were really good working with her.”
Jean was receiving more oxygen every day, and roughly four days after she was admitted, Dr. Maier called Tom with the news that the hospital had a dose of Remdesivir, an antiviral medication that has had some success, and Jean and Tom both agreed to see if it would work.
Within a few days, Dr. Maier began to notice a difference in Jean’s condition.
“He said something like, ‘She still needs oxygen, but I’ve noticed something in her eyes; they’re less foggy and glossed over,’” Tom said.
With this encouraging progress, Dr. Maier also recommended a plasma transfer, in which people who had COVID-19 donate their blood, which contains antibodies.
“That’s when she started to improve more significantly,” Tom said of the plasma transfer. “With each passing day, I got the call saying, ‘Your mom is doing better.’”
“You are always a little more concerned [with older patients],” Dr. Maier said. “But, she toughed it out.”
Jean began to slowly regain some strength and was on the right track towards recovery. Even though the hospital didn’t allow visitors, Dr. Tia Larson was able to show up outside her window from time to time, and she would talk with Jean over the phone and offer words of encouragement. Jean was very thankful for this support system during her stay.
“I really feel Dr. Maier was a fantastic doctor,” Jean said. “I was also very impressed with the nursing staff and Buffalo Hospital.”
With this step, though, came a new task: finding a place for her to rest and recover.
Finding a Place
Jean’s family was working with a social worker from Buffalo Hospital to contact all of the care facilities in and around Buffalo to find one that would accept Jean.
“The common theme was, even though [she] was past the contagious CDC recommendations, and she’s considered safe, this was still early on,” Tom explained. “A lot of places hadn’t yet admitted a COVID patient, and they didn’t want to check off that box.”
Buffalo Hospital was very helpful in working with them and were patient as they tried to find a place, even though her time in the hospital was starting to draw longer than necessary.
It was at this time that a family friend told Tom’s wife, Char, about a respite and hospice care facility in St. Augusta, Quiet Oaks Hospice Home, and she was convinced they would take Jean. The social worker called, and the home immediately accepted her. After narrowing down the remaining options, it was clear that it was the best option. On May 29, Jean made the move from Buffalo Hospital to Quiet Oaks Hospice Home.
Offering Jean a place to stay as she recovered wasn’t a question for Dr. Patrick Lalley, the Resident Medical Director, and the staff at Quiet Oaks. Though they primarily serve as a hospice and respite home, they were quick, early on, to figure out how they could help those recovering from COVID-19, as many wouldn’t have a place to go.
“We all have a part to play,” Dr. Lalley explained. “They have to have somewhere to go.”
Prepared with a PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) supply, Quiet Oaks was ready to serve. For active COVID-19 cases, a cottage, separate from the main building, was designated for strict quarantining. Any newcomers, like Jean, who were past the CDC guidelines for active COVID-19 cases would only need to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival in the main building.
Right as Jean arrived, she was welcomed by the staff. The combination of the service and hospitality of the staff and the peacefulness of the grounds was comforting for her during her stay. While she was isolating, her family and friends would visit with her through the large windows of her room, which also served as a wonderful way to observe the happenings in nature.
“Every room had a hummingbird feeder [on the window],” Jean said. “You would also see the canaries and goldfinches, and all of the birds; there was also a bluebird house. It was all really delightful!”
She also recalls the well-maintained landscape and outdoor areas that made her stay more enjoyable.
“I can’t tell you how beautiful the grounds are,” she said. “They had a man-made pond with lovely flowers all around.”
Along with the grounds and wildlife, the staff at Quiet Oaks rose high above any expectations she could have had.
“I really appreciated the great medical care from Dr. Lalley, Ginny Green and her staff,” Jean said. “Everyone was so kind to me.”
Ginny Green, the Director of Nursing, fondly looks back on the time she spent getting to know Jean.
“She was so lovely,” Ginny said. “When she arrived, she was overcome with emotions, but she quickly began to get her “zippity-do-da” back!”
Ginny saw Jean was determined to get stronger.
“Once she gained peace [about being better], she took off!” Ginny said. “She just had that spark to overcome it.”
Executive Assistant Lisa Schulte also chimed in with fond memories.
“She would hand out little chocolates to everyone,” Lisa said. “She was so sweet.”
Dr. Lalley echoed their sentiments, as he had seen the progress in her recovery during her time at Quiet Oaks.
“Her initial worry was, ‘Will I get better?’” Dr. Lalley said. “I was reassuring her she’s done a great job and survived the rockiest part. Once she got better, she had boundless energy and was up moving around. She was so kind and generous to everyone.”
Jean spent four weeks and a day at Quiet Oaks, regaining her strength. Once she was cleared to go home, being at the point where she could be more independent, it was a bittersweet goodbye to those who took such great care of her.
“Seeing her get better and go home was really heartwarming to see,” Ginny said.
Now back home in Buffalo, Jean is becoming more and more independent. After returning from Quiet Oaks, her family set up a schedule to stop by and spend time with her. Recently, Home Instead Care, an at-home senior caregiver business, was hired to spend some time with Jean, helping her adjust back to her independent lifestyle.
Also assisting in her recovery are grandchildren, Sonny Schiefelbein, of Florida, Jack McDonnell, of Buffalo, daughter, Cathy Schiefelbein, of Kimball, and good friend, Cindy Fehn. Her daughter-in-law, Char McDonnell, works with Jean on her appointments, medicines and scheduling. A dear friend, Judy Sandeen, has sent many cards to Jean, filled with encouraging words and uplifting scripture.
Having survived COVID-19, Jean’s story can now serve as an encouragement for those who share a similar experience, or for those on their own road of recovery.