HealthLinks Charleston Sept/Oct 2022

88 | www. Char l es tonPhys i c i ans . com | www.Hea l thL i nksChar l es ton . com A Unique Case: MOVING FORWARD DONNA WILLIAMSON’S STORY By Denise K. James When Donna Williamson left Roper Hospital after a three-week stay for pneumonia, she, as most of us would, expected to gradually feel back to her old self. However, just days later, Donna felt poorly enough to return to Roper, where she received the sobering news that she not only had pneumonia but also COVID-19. She went home with the intention of self-isolating, telling her sister to leave her alone in the house and brushing off advice to go back to the hospital. But as it turned out, staying at home would have been a fatal mistake. Donna’s husband, Marshall, received a phone call from Dr. Nicole Watson, who witnessed Donna being sent home from Roper. The physician recognized that Donna needed to be re-admitted immediately. Heeding the urgent call, Marshall came home to find his wife already delirious from lack of oxygen and uncertain of who he was. The paramedics arrived, placed Donna into a wheelchair and took her to the COVID-19 unit of the hospital, where she began fighting for her life. This was in December 2020. Donna doesn’t remember much about those 30 days in the COVID unit, many of which she spent in a coma – and perhaps that is a good thing. During her stay in the unit, her kidneys failed — she was taken downtown for dialysis — and she was on a ventilator. In fact, doctors had given her “a 1% chance to live,” she said. “While I was in a coma, they called my husband, asking him if they could unplug the machines,” Donna revealed. “And he told them no.” Eventually, she woke up from her coma, giving family and friends some cautious hope. But Donna was far from out of the weeds. Upon waking up, she discovered she could not feel anything from the neck down — legs, hands, arms, feet or torso. The disorder, known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, or GBS, occurs when an individual’s nervous system shuts down, often caused by a virus or bacteria. Then another doctor who came into Donna’s room and found out what was happening offered her a bit of unusual advice — Donna should “talk” to her hands and feet to remind them how much they were needed. “He said talk to your hands; talk to your feet; tell them to wake up and do their jobs,” she recalled. “Everyone thought he was crazy, but I started focusing and concentrating, and my right hand started to work!” With that miraculous morsel of encouragement, Donna felt a new strength rise up within. She was accepted into the Mayo Clinic Health System’s program for COVID long-haulers in January