Fort Myers woman on oxygen hopeful after months-long COVID battle
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Debbie Steele is a happy, COVID-free woman. On Friday, she dropped off cupcakes for her favorite people at Select Specialty Hospital.
“I was here for 2.5 months fighting COVID,” Steele said.
The 63-year-old’s battle with COVID-19 started in February when she found herself in Lee Memorial’s ICU.
“I was sitting there and they swabbed my nose and told me I had COVID. The minute I laid down is when I started to flatline,” she said.
In that moment, she said saw her family and her life flash before her eyes.
“I already beat cancer. I’m not going to die from COVID,” she said.
After a week in intensive care, Steele was transferred to Select Specialty Hospital.
“We have 100 what are called long term acute care hospitals. To date we have cared for 14,000 COVID patients,” said Dr. Buddy Hammerman, chief medical officer at Select Medical.
At this hospital, nurses and doctors rehab patients with long term or permanent complications from COVID-19.
“We have had plenty of 33, 35-year -ld people that I’d call healthy in this building facing a critical illness on a ventilator that didn’t have anything wrong with them before they got this disease,” said Scot Butler, CEO of Select Speciality Hospital in Fort Myers.
“People who come in with a COVID infection are having a tremendous amount of damage and inflammation to their lungs,” said Chris Pistone, a respiratory therapy manager.
Doctors explain, Pneumonia patients need between 2 – 4 liters of oxygen flowing in order for them to breathe. A typical COVID patient requires 40 – 60 liters, doctors said.
“Stuff that is so easy for us, you know, we jump up out of bed and start our day. They can’t do that. We’re lucky if we can get them to roll from side to side without them losing their breath or panicking ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’” said Rachel Arcadi, a certified occupational therapy assistant.
Like thousands of people, Steele’s lungs are severely compromised. While her oxygen tank is keeping her alive, it’s her positivity and determination that’s helping her recover.
”Time spent with Deb was very exciting. She has a fun personality,” said Dani Tolley, a physical therapy assistant who worked closely with Steele.
Steele still has a long road to recovery ahead, but her mind is made up and her goals are set.
“I’ll get off the oxygen. Just a matter of time. I’m determined,” she said.
The simple luxury of breathing is something Steele said she will never take for granted.
“Life could hit you just like that you know? And you can lose your life just like that, that quick. I almost did,” she said.
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