Four months ago, doctors told her she would die from rapidly progressing COVID-19. Now recovering, a 50-year-old Michigan woman is cautioning others and urging them to get vaccinated.
“I thought I would be fine – I hadn’t even had a cold in a couple of years – but I was not,” said Shannon Brown, a resident of Mattawan, a village near Kalamazoo.
“My children almost had to say goodbye to me. They had a prayer vigil for me. This isn’t just the frail and elderly that get critically ill.”When COVID first came to Michigan, Brown, a former nurse of 23 years, took precautions. She “wore the mask and went about [her] life.”
During the pandemic’s second wave in late 2020, her family got infected. First, Geoff, her ex-husband. Then, her 14-year-old son, Karsten.Brown developed symptoms in late February and immediately got tested.
She had just received the first shot of a two-dose vaccine five days before her positive test, too recent for her body to develop immunity against the virus, according to the CDC.
“I remember thinking, ‘[My boyfriend] had it and got better, so I only have a few more days of this,’” Brown said. “It was just incredible pain. When I started getting shortness of breath later that week, I knew I was getting worse.
It wasn’t going away.”Struggling for air and unable to get out of bed, Brown told friends she feared her children would find her dead at home.
She had previously been sent home from an emergency room in her area, but her blood oxygen levels continued to dip below 85%. Brown’s friend drove her to another hospital where she was later admitted to the intensive care unit.
“Within a couple days, I was coughing up blood,” Brown said. “I was breathing so rapidly, my doctor wondered how long I could keep it up.
My friends in medicine were telling me not to go on the ventilator, that COVID patients don’t do well on it. Eventually, I just couldn’t keep up the pace.”Brown developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, a form of lung failure.
She was intubated March 17, requiring 100% oxygen.Around 6 p.m. a week later, flight nurses from Michigan Medicine’s Survival Flight team arrived at the Kalamazoo hospital where Brown was admitted.
They prepared her for transport to Michigan Medicine and evaluated her for ECMO, a critical care machine that bypasses the heart and lungs to pump oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.
The advanced therapy is complicated and often used when all other therapies fail to improve oxygenation.“Our whole goal was to get her to [to Ann Arbor] before she needed ECMO,” said Ted Adelmann, R.N., a 15-year veteran flight nurse with Survival Flight.
“We started her on inhaled nitric oxide therapy. We were able to oxygenate and ventilate her much better once we arrived, which made a huge difference by the time we dropped her off at the surgical ICU at Michigan Medicine.”An hour later, Brown’s family held collective breath as the helicopter took off. Jonah captured it all on camera.