Imagine waking up and not being able to breath. That was the very real reality for Nicolas Vicente. As a healthy 17 year old, he did not expect to wake up feeling deprived of oxygen and ending up in a hospital for a month on a ventilator. This sadly is the very real impact COVID-19 can have on someone, and it was something Nicolas was never expecting.
"It started with a fever and shortness of breath, and then one morning I woke up unable to breathe. My family took me to a hospital where I was put in the ICU unit and intubated for one month." When Nicolas woke up, he was unable to speak, breathe, or walk easily. With Nicolas incapable of performing these skills, the decision was made for him to go somewhere that could help him improve and relearn these functions, Weisman Children's Rehabilitation Hospital.
Due to the unknown nature of COVID-19 and its long-term impact, doctors were unable to tell Nicolas how long his stay could be. Despite being worried, Nicolas wanted to show that he could return to normalcy, and be an example for others working to overcome COVID-19. He used that as determination to work to have the shortest stay possible and get back to his life. Working together with his team of Weisman Children's therapists, Nicolas bypassed expectations that even he had for himself.
"When Nicolas came to us, we could see that COVID-19 and his time in the hospital using a ventilator took a lot of his strength," said Jared Schuerman, Speech-Language Pathologist for Weisman Children's Rehabilitation Hospital and Nicolas' Speech Therapist. Schuerman continued "He wasn't able to take a deep enough breath to support his speech. He would trail off by the end of his sentence. This made it tough for him to have the ability to have a conversation back and forth."
Schuerman explained that while this was his first patient who was COVID-19 recovered, he was familiar with a lot of Nicolas' speech therapy needs because he had seen patients with similar conditions after a long hospital stay on a ventilator. Schuerman taught Nicolas a series of breathing exercises to help him regain the ability to gather enough air to speak. Nicolas' voice started to return some and he was able to hold conversations once again, something that was not expected to happen so quickly. "He was really motivated to get back home as soon as possible. Nicolas worked so hard and really took all of his therapy seriously," said Schuerman.
That determination also applied to his physical therapy. When Nicolas arrived at Weisman Children's after his stay in the hospital, he could not move his left leg well, which made it difficult for him to walk. "COVID-19 and his stay at the hospital left Nicolas impacted in many ways. He had significant muscle weakness throughout his entire body, but his left leg was giving him the most trouble," said Katlyn Kristeller, Physical Therapist for Weisman Children's and Nicolas' Physical Therapist during his stay. She explained that while COVID-19 and his hospital stay greatly affected Nicolas' conditioning, he responded well to similar therapies she used with previous patients who had a long hospital stay.
"Our main goal was to get him back to being more independent, get him doing things he was able to do easily before he contracted COVID-19." She continued, "when he came to us, he could not sit or stand up on his own. When we started, he could walk maybe 5 feet with a walker and by the end of his stay, which was only a week and half later, he was walking up to 6 minutes at one time, and did that without a walker." Kristeller concluded that Nicolas' determination to recover is what pushed him to have such a quick recovery.
"I am proud that was I was able to have such a fast turnaround once I got to Weisman Children's and I could not have done that without this team. They saw that I was determined to get back and be a normal teenager again and really set me up with the best exercises to get me there as fast as possible. I am so thankful for all of them." For any future patient who might be scared and struggling with recovery from COVID-19, Nicolas had this to say, "It might be stressful and you might think it is impossible to go back to the way you were, but that is not true. Stay positive and never give up."