Belated birthday miracle for woman hospitalized for nearly four months with COVID-19

July 29, 2020

July 21, 2020

Birthdays are a joyous occasion – a celebration of reaching another milestone and a gentle reminder that we get a chance to live out another year.

Rhonda King received an unwelcome belated birthday surprise – a trip to the emergency room.

It was on March 27, the day after her 56th birthday that the headache she had been nursing for about four days became severe enough to warrant medical attention.

She thought it was just her sinuses. She and her husband Anthony both suffer from sinus irritation and allergies, a common complaint in our region.

But when she contacted her physician hoping for a prescription, she mentioned that her chest hurt. Instead of a prescription, she received instruction to go to the emergency room instead.

The Kings, who have been together since their high school sweetheart days at Shawnee High School, and who still live in that neighborhood, visited the emergency department at U of L Health-Jewish Hospital, which was close to their home.

King was diagnosed with COVID-19. As her temperature reached 103, she began to find breathing difficult. After a continued decline in her condition, she was put in a medically induced coma and was placed on a ventilator to assist her breathing.

Anthony said she remained in this state for a month and a half to two months before the medical team brought her out of the coma.

She was moved from the regular ICU to the Heart and Lung ICU, where she was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a life support system used for patients critically ill with lung or heart conditions.
She received plasma from a donor who had recovered from the virus.

Nothing seemed to be working. A doctor and a nurse each told Anthony separate, “Mr. King, we are waiting on a miracle.”

Those words, so difficult for a family to heart, preceded a long and silent wait. Then one day, a couple of weeks later, Rhonda’s physician told her husband, “Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, her lungs are starting to look better.”

The miracle they had awaited had arrived.

After improving enough to transition care from U of L Health-Jewish Hospital to Kindred Hospital, where her providers finally removed the trach that had been placed in her throat to help her breathe.

Her recovery would require one more step – or more precisely – a few more “steps” to be complete. After weeks of her bedridden fight against COVID-19, she had become weak. She transferred to Baptist Health Louisville’s acute rehabilitation unit where she would regain her strength, and her body would learn to walk again.

Today (Tuesday), King was discharged and will return home on a low level of oxygen, but she has been told that her lungs will never be the same.

King doesn’t know how she could have contracted the virus. She also doesn’t know when she may be able to return to the job where she has worked for 30 years.

One thing she does have to look forward to is the new home where the Kings and their German Shepherd, Avery, will be moving with their daughter Shronda, her family and pet Yorkie.

They were in the process of looking for a new home earlier this year, but the family stopped looking when their matriarch became ill. Anthony said the first thing she asked when she awoke from the coma was, “Have you got the new house?” The new house has become a reality, with a closing set for next month.

She can’t wait to get her hair washed and fixed, and to get a manicure and pedicure. Her husband, noting how the ICU nurses gave personalized attention to her hair even while she was in a coma, said, “She’s still girly!” Rhonda already has an appointment with her hairdresser to come to her home.

The Kings miss riding their bicycles in the neighborhood and their annual trips. Rhonda misses seeing her family; the couple has three children and four grandchildren between them. She is looking forward to watching TV with her grandson.

King appreciates the care provided at Baptist and at the other facilities where she has received care. “I love the way they treated me. They are really nice people. I just want to say how good these people are up here. They help you with anything and everything. I appreciate that.”

Baptist Health staff was there to cheer her on today as she left the hospital to return home. “Mrs. King was a bright light on our unit for the time she was there,” stated Mary Rodriguez, MSN, RN, nurse manager, acute rehab. “We are so proud of the accomplishments she has made through her determination, and we are happy to have been a part of her recovery.”

Her experience has forever changed life for the couple. Anthony spoke for both of them when he said, “We are going to be more cautious of life itself and the things that go on in it. We see how precious it is and how quickly it can be taken away from us. She tells me all the time that she is just glad to be alive."

After nearly four months, Rhonda King received a belated birthday gift in a long-awaited miracle. It’s proof that a value cannot be placed on a second chances, and the best gifts are often unexpected and don’t always come from a store.