Stacie's Story

After 194 days in the hospital, a nurse overcomes COVID

Stacie Smith, 60, has been a respiratory therapist for 35 years. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she was working at Merit Health Women’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit.

Several months into the pandemic, Stacie tested positive and took time off to isolate at home. Her husband, Kevin, was also positive. He recovered without complications. Stacie wasn’t as lucky.

Her breathing progressively worsened. At one point, Kevin gave her breathing treatments and used an oxygen concentrator. When she didn’t improve, he called an ambulance.

Stacie was taken to St. Dominic’s and rushed to the emergency room. Quickly, she went into respiratory failure and was connected to a ventilator.

Over the next 70 days, Stacie fought for her life. She sedated, temporarily paralyzed and proned – placed on her stomach to help her lungs fill with oxygen. Stacie also developed septic shock and needed two powerful intravenous medications to keep her blood pressure up.

Later, she was connected to a tracheostomy for airway support and a feeding tube was surgically placed into the stomach.

The body blows kept coming. Stacie developed atrial fibrillation, a condition where part of the heart doesn’t beat correctly, which caused a small stroke. Her kidney function dropped, requiring temporary, continuous dialysis.

Against long odds, Stacie finally stabilized and transferred to Select Specialty Hospital – Jackson. Kevin, an occupational therapist, chose Select based on recommendations and connections he had with staff.

Stacie arrived unable to breathe, eat, speak or move. Her biggest goal was she was learning to walk again.

A physician-led, interdisciplinary team of nurses, therapists, pharmacists and dietitians created a plan for success.

Respiratory therapy began trialing whether Stacie’s lungs had recovered enough to start working on their own. Through breathing, chest and coughing exercises, combined with gradual ventilator setting reduction, she liberated from the machine.

Stacie worked tirelessly with physical, occupational and speech therapy to reconnect to her body. Therapists ensured the delicate balance of striving toward recovery with range of motion exercises didn’t over-tire her yet kept her moving in the right direction.

She progressed to needing a small tube of oxygen at her nose at night. However, she continued experiencing right-hand numbness.

Though her family was unable to visit personally due to restrictions in place to prevent COVID’s spread, Kevin was able to visit at Stacie’s window.

“It might not have been a lot, but it meant a lot to me,” she said.

After two months, Stacie had begun to heal. She departed for an inpatient rehabilitation hospital to continue building strength and stamina. It was there she met her ultimate goal of relearning how to walk.

“I couldn’t wait to get outside again,” she said. “I was so happy the day I transferred from Select to rehab, because I got to go outside, feel and smell the fresh air and see outside during the ambulance ride.”

After 194 days in various hospitals, Stacie was cleared to go home. She will continue with outpatient therapy, but is looking forward to getting back to her routine.

“I’ve had the opportunity to learn what really matters in life,” Stacie said. “I’ll take those lessons with me for the rest of my journey.”