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‘COVID is Real and It’s Here to Attack Our Lungs’
Saturday, November 14, 2020


Amelia Cortez should have been home walking her 6-month-old daughter. But she has difficulty catching her breath, let alone walking after contracting COVID while in her third trimester.

So, on Friday, she stood instead at Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s side issuing a stark warning to young people her age about COVID in a message that Little hopes will resonate better than his pleadings of the past six months.

“We’ve come to the profound conclusion that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working,” Little told reporters attending a virtual press conference. “We need to do more outreach, a bigger media presence, a higher level of awareness. And there’s no better communicator about this than the front-line health care works or patients.”

Little added he has not done a good enough job of pleading with people to wear masks because he still sees people going maskless. That’s why he had enlisted the help of Cortez and Rachel Thain, a respiratory therapist at St. Luke’s who took care of Amelia while she was in the hospital.

Cortez said she thought she was out of breath because she was eight months pregnant when she checked into St. Luke’s late one night in May.

“Little did I know that COVID was taking over my body and my lungs were shutting down. I did not expect to be fighting for my life the next three weeks,” she said, pausing to catch her breath.

She gave birth the next day to a daughter and cried inside when they had to be separated because she was too weak to cry on the outside.

In the coming days and weeks Cortez was connected to a machine on the wall that breathed for her.  She hallucinated that she was waking up in southeast Asia, Arizona, California—even the basement of Albertson’s.

“When I got out of the hospital, my mother had to bathe me. She had to dress me. She had to brush my hair, help me with my makeup. I couldn’t walk 10 steps without feeling like I was going to collapse,” she told reporters.

Nights are the worst, she added, as she feels as if a weight is pressing on her chest. When that happens, she has to check her ever-present oxygen tank to make sure the cord has not kinked or disconnected.

“To my peers, I really hope you guys understand where I’m coming from and take this seriously because I almost lost my life. I cannot work and I have to carry around an oxygen tank where ever I go,” she said.

“Especially for my age group we like to go out with our friends, we like to go out to dinner and we tend to get careless,” she added. “And we as young adults need to activate and wake up because COVID is real, and it’s here to attack our lungs.”

Thain said Amelia’s case is not unique—some of the sickest patients she’s cared for have been in their 20s and 30s. And, though they may not die, they’re experiencing respiratory or cardiac issues months later. Among them, a very healthy man in his 30s who now has only a quarter of his normal heart function.

Some of those young people are on life support machines for two to three weeks, she added.

Thain said St. Luke’s Health System had 190 cases the last time she checked. Her hospital in Boise is getting patients from Wood River, McCall, Nampa and Fruitland because they’re at capacity.

“Our floors are full. We experience calls daily from outlying facilities—Washington, Oregon, all over Idaho—saying, ‘Please take our patients. We are at capacity. We don’t have staff.’ Well, that’s where we are now, too.”

More COVID cases mean more COVID admissions which mean more COVID deaths. But wearing a mask can reduce the spread.

“We need you to wear your mask and wear it properly. I wear my mask to protect you, to keep my respiratory droplets behind that mask. You wear yours to protect me, to keep your respiratory droplets behind your mask,” she said. “We’re a community and we need to take care of each other.”

Thain noted that she has been a respiratory therapist for nearly 18 years and, every time she has entered the room of a patient with a contagious respiratory virus, she wears a mask.

She has not contracted COVID, even though she’s been taking care of COVID patients since March.  If she contracts COVID, she said, it will be out in the community, by going into the stores where people are not wearing masks.

Thain begged Idahoans to be patient a little longer and limit gatherings and travel at Thanksgiving.

“It’s understandable that everyone wants to gather,” she said. “But I don’t want this to get out of control and have a huge influx of patients after Thanksgiving Break.”


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