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'It's an absolute miracle': Here's the harrowing story of one B.C. woman's recovery from COVID-19

Irene Spicer, the first person in Kelowna to be diagnosed with COVID-19, was in a medically-induced coma for three weeks.
Kelowna covid patient. 1_p3458483
Irene Spicer in the Kelowna General Hospital after waking up from a medically-induced coma related to COVID-19. Photo submitted

After spending 45 days at Kelowna General Hospital, the first person in Kelowna to be diagnosed with COVID-19 has recovered, but it hasn't been an easy ride.

"I was the first in Kelowna to get it and the worst case they had seen," says 69-year-old Irene Spicer. "Everybody says it's an absolute miracle because they figured I'd be in long-term care, I fooled them!" 

Spicer travelled to the Philippines back in January to visit her brother for two months before travelling home to Kelowna in mid-March. And at the time of booking the trip in 2019, the COVID-19 virus had not yet been discovered.   

"When this was all booked there was no sign of COVID," she said, explaining that when the time came to fly home, the airport in the Philippines was "absolutely packed" full of thousands of frantic travellers trying to book last-minute flights home due to border closures related to the pandemic.

This is where doctors believe Spicer contracted the virus. 

"When we were travelling we always had our hand sanitizer and masks," she says. "When we got off the plane there was no signs up saying to self-quarantine or anything."

Spicer travelled from the Philippines to Vancouver before landing in Kelowna, where she returned to her apartment. 

"I had no symptoms that week after I got home. I was tired, but I mean, you expect that with the jet lag," she says. But six days after returning home, everything changed.

"I have IBS and I got up early in the morning. I felt a bit dizzy, so I know myself, quite often when I feel like that, I do pass out," says Spicer.

She held onto the sink before fainting, but woke up on the ground in intense pain after breaking a vertebrae during her fall. With the help of her neighbour, she was taken by paramedics who initially believed she had suffered a stroke.

The day after being admitted to KGH Spicer was tested for COVID-19, but doesn't remember much after that.

"They said it was positive, then I guess my breathing went wonky so they put me in a coma and on the ventilator," she says. 

Spicer was in a medically-induced coma for three weeks.

Over the three week period, doctors told Spicer's family, who were unable to visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, that they didn't think she was going to pull through. It had been the most severe case the local doctors had seen. 

Spicer woke up three weeks later to hear, "I'm COVID free and they're moving me to the rehab ward."

"There was a little bit of brain damage, so my hands are a bit off and I'm using a walker, but I mean that's all stuff that can be corrected, I'm still here," says Spicer, explaining the damage was due to her brain not getting enough oxygen while she was at her sickest.

Regardless, she has fully recovered from the virus and was discharged from the hospital on May 6.

Spicer tells Castanet that the nurses and doctors had a lasting impact on her. When discharged, the staff formed a line and cheered her out of the hospital.

"The staff were absolutely fabulous. One young nurse came in and said 'you know, I was there when you were brought in and I was a student nurse and I had to come down to see you because I'm now graduated and I'm a full nurse,' and she was so excited, it was lovely," says Spicer. "I'm thankful that I'm here and the outpouring of love that these people gave me."

"There is hope. There's light at the end of the tunnel and the doctors are doing everything they can."

1-1_p3458485Irene Spicer in the Philippines before contracting COVID-19. Photo: submitted.

- By  / Castanet 

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