No one is invincible: An unlikely coronavirus victim shares her story of struggle and survival

So many Americans believe that only the elderly and the immunocompromised are capable of contracting and becoming gravely ill from Covid-19.  I, too, believed I was invincible until I saw a social media post written by a high school classmate, Tiffany Vega-Gibson.

Vega-Gibson, 34, lives in New Orleans with her husband, John, and her 21-month-old son, Miles. She works from home full-time, manages a local theatre company and venue on the weekends, exercises several times a week, and just before she fell in, participated in a Latin dance krewe for Mardi Gras parades.

“I’m a busy and active woman,” Vega-Gibson says.

On the evening on March 13, Vega-Gibson started to feel under the weather. She went to Costco the next morning and came back home to discover she had a fever of 101.7. Sensing that something was wrong, she quarantined herself from her family.

The fevers persisted for two days before Vega-Gibson went to the only urgent care in the city that was testing, but they turned her away because she was young with no preexisting conditions. On the night of March 16, her fever jumped to 103.8 and she went to the ER at the local hospital where she delivered her son. The nurse spent several minutes trying to convince Vega-Gibson to go home without getting tested because she would have to wait for hours in the waiting room and wouldn’t get the test back for at least another three days.

“I have a toddler at home,” my friend said. “I will stay and get tested.”

So, she did. The staff told her there was nothing they could do for me except provide fluids and Tylenol.

Vega-Gibson continued to quarantine herself from her family at home and her condition continued to deteriorate. Her temperature jumped to 104.7 on Wednesday the 18th, so she returned to the emergency room. Again, they said there was nothing they could do and sent her home. Even her primary care physician turned her away. As she suffered through the fevers and the cough that rattled her chest, Vega-Gibson felt physically and mentally exhausted. Her husband left food on their dresser, but she couldn’t eat. The worst part was that she was completely isolated.

Tiffany Vega-Gibson is shown in the hospital. (Courtesy Tiffany Vega-Gibson)

On March 19, Vega-Gibson’s test results came back. She, a healthy, active, woman in the prime of her life, was positive for COVID-19. The fevers were relentless. One stayed at 102.7 for 12 hours. No amount of Tylenol would bring it down. Her breathing was starting to deteriorate, but still no one could help. The ER said “Stop coming here and exposing people.”

On March 22, Vega-Gibson’s husband called an ambulance. The paramedics came to her home and said they wouldn’t take her because every hospital was turning away anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 and that she was young and “not doing that bad.” Her husband, desperate to find her help, drove Vega-Gibson to an ER at a different hospital, only to be told, once again, that there was nothing they could do other than provide Tylenol.

The next day, Monday, the 23rd, Vega-Gibson’s respiration dropped drastically. Her  husband called an ambulance again and they took her immediately back to the same hospital she was at the night before. After observing her for a few hours, they finally decided to admit her.

There were no room available, so Vega-Gibson remained in the ER for two days, alone, behind a mask, and sweating “bullets.” She had hypertension and her breathing was dangerously close to necessitating a ventilator. The nurses also sensed her anxiety and provided her with Valium to help her to settle down, which also helped her breathing. They gave her an antimalarial drug called Plaquenil and some antibiotics, to treat her pneumonia. They also gave her something to increase her appetite because she hadn’t eaten since she had her first fever.  After three days on these medicines, Vega-Gibson’s fever finally went away on March 25 and she was able to eat for the first time in nearly two weeks.

Tiffany Vega-Gibson is pictured recovering at home. (Courtesy Tiffany Vega-Gibson)

Vega-Gibson was on oxygen this whole time at the hospital and they were slowly weaning her off. They took her off of oxygen on March 28 and decided to release her and send her home. “You can easily recover at home and, to be honest, people are dying in the ER and we need your bed,” they said.

It is Monday March 30 when I write this, and Vega-Gibson is home recovering now.

“I feel good,” she says. “I am out of breath most of the time, but I haven’t had a fever since Wednesday and I can feel myself growing stronger every day. However, I haven’t seen my son or held him in two weeks. And the doctor said I can’t until I can go seven days without a cough.”

Vega-Gibson says her son is her motivation for getting through this battle. She wants to see him grow up. She wants to meet her grandchildren. At the same time, she says that her faith has been the force that is guiding her from this dark time to the light that is her health and her family. She attributes the power of prayer the her source of comfort and strength, as well as gratitude. “God has been so good to me and my family,” she says. “We are so blessed.”

Tiffany Vega-Gibson purchased this “Jesus plant.” (Tiffany Vega-Gibson)

Last August, Vega-Gibson bought a plant called the Jesus heart plant, despite her lack of a green thumb. In fact, being left outside in the winter without water, it met the same demise as the rest of Vega-Gibson’s plants. To Vega-Gibson’s surprise, she noticed the day after she returned from the hospital that her dead plant is blooming. “Red like the bleeding heart of Jesus for me. And every day it gets taller and more flowers pop up and that is me in my recovery journey. The strength of Jesus’ heart for me.”

When it comes to prayer, Vega-Gibson is requesting that all of us ask God to intercede in this dire situation.

“Please stay home,” she says. “This is not a ‘bad flu.’ This virus is very, very serious. I am 34 years old. I am healthy. I am fit. And I almost died. And please continue to pray for those who are affected by this virus. The power of prayer is what got me through this.”

Robyn Barberry

Robyn Barberry

Robyn Barberry is married to her high school sweetheart, Patrick. They are raising four imaginative and adventurous children, one of whom has autism.

Robyn teaches English at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore and is a former art and language arts teacher at St. Joan of Arc in Aberdeen, where she worships with her family.

Robyn earned an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College in 2011 and she has been blogging for the Catholic Review since 2012. If she could have dinner with any living person, it would be Pope Francis.