Lilia Barcelon

Bruce Goldstein

Lilia Barcelon was isolating at home after experiencing fatigue.  A day later, her adult daughter, Christene was unable to reach the 58-year old medical assistant on the phone. Lilia’s other daughter, Joanne, decided to stop by her mother’s house to check on her.

This decision likely saved the Filipino immigrant’s life.  Finding Lilia unconscious and turning blue, Joanne immediately dialed 911.  An ambulance rushed her to the local hospital where she was diagnosed with multiple organ failure due to COVID-19.

In the emergency room, she was immediately intubated and placed on a ventilator. The situation was dire, and hospital staff arranged for Lilia to be sent by medical helicopter to Danville’s Geisinger Medical Center.

As the virus rampaged through Lilia’s body, she faced blood clots, surging blood pressure, lung and kidney failure. Connected to machines that oxygenate the blood (ECMO) and act as external kidneys (CRRT), her family was told at least three times Lilia might not survive.

On the day physicians were once again ready to discuss comfort care, Lilia’s son, Ralph, and Christene were involved in a car accident. The siblings were able to climb out of the totaled car and wait for help.  As emergency crews were on the way, they received a message from the hospital asking them to come in for a conference about their mother. Ralph relayed what had just happened and that a decision was impossible. They’d need a few days.

In what the family calls a miracle, Lilia began to stabilize.  Now the family had a much different decision to make – where to go for the next step of their mother’s recovery.  They chose Select Specialty Hospital – Danville.

Lilia arrived on a ventilator and dialysis, unable to eat, speak, move or think clearly. Short-term, her goal was to breathe independently, with hopes that she could eventually return to normal life.

A physician-led team, including therapists and nurses, created a plan to bring Lilia back.

Her children played a critical role as well. On video calls assisted by hospital staff, they encouraged her to blink, move fingers and toes and nod as a form of communication. Lilia would respond as her care team observed to see what motivated her.  It was a major turning point.

Continuing to progress, Lilia became more oriented and connected with the physical therapy team’s mobility plan. Recovery picked up as she grew stronger each day. Before long, Lilia was ready to try sitting in bed, moving to a chair and standing with help.

Respiratory therapy worked alongside, stepping back ventilator settings and monitored bursts of time off the machine to test whether Lilia’s lungs were ready to work on their own.

Two weeks later, she liberated from the ventilator. Recovery continued to pick up steam as speech therapists retrained swallowing reflexes and encouraged more normal speech using a valve inserted into the tracheostomy. Kidney function also returned and dialysis was discontinued.

Nurses checking in for medication and orientation rounds frequently found Lilia video chatting with her children, and family back in the Philippines, which always brought big smiles. 
After one month, against long odds, Lilia was ready to go to go home.

Joyfully, she walked out of the hospital to hugs from her family. Lilia was eager to get back into her kitchen so she could cook them a big meal.

She was also looking forward to resuming volunteer work. Surviving this trial, she said, reinforced her desire to help others.

“This would not have been possible without the love, compassion and unwavering support of the exceptional nurses, aides, doctors and therapists at this hospital,” her daughter Joanne added.