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‘I have a second chance’: Woman survives COVID-19 after two weeks on ventilator

TORONTO — Julie Lingan, a 39-year-old mother of four-year-old twins, has become an unlikely hero in the war on COVID-19.

Despite being young and healthy, the Ontario woman spent the last month in hospital and two weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma.

In early March, before her dramatic battle for life, the stay-at-home mother was more concerned about her husband’s health. He had a cough, sore throat and fever.

“My husband was getting more and more sick, so he went to the hospital,” Lingan remembers. Mark was diagnosed with COVID-19, and was sent home to self-isolate. Almost immediately, she also developed symptoms: “I had a dry cough, and my fever was 40 degrees.”

Lingan’s condition deteriorated so quickly that by the time she got to Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., she no longer had enough oxygen to even speak. “It just kept getting worse and worse,” she says. “It felt like I was suffocating — worse than suffocating, my lips were turning blue.”

Within 48 hours, the ICU team made the decision that Lingan’s body could no longer breathe on its own.

“It’s safe to say without being overly dramatic that she would not have survived,” ICU Dr. Barry Nathanson says. “She was as sick as somebody can be.”

A team of dozens of intensive care staff prepared to put Lingan on a ventilator, a treatment with a distressingly low survival rate. One of her nurses recalls helping Lingan make a final video call to her family at home. “I was in the room prior to her being put to sleep and being intubated,” says nurse Lindsey McNabb. “Just before we put her to sleep, we FaceTimed her husband and her kids. I was fighting back tears.”

Lingan remembers the terror of wondering if she would ever see her family again: “When they were about to put me to sleep, I was thinking about my twins…[one has] autism. So I was thinking who will take care of them when I am gone?”

After two long weeks, she was removed from the ventilator and has slowly been recovering.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Lingan says. “A tough road. I don’t have the words to describe my journey with the COVID virus.”

On Thursday, exactly one month after being admitted, she became the first ventilated COVID-19 patient at Southlake Regional Health Centre to make it out alive. Doctors and nurses lined the hallways to “clap her out,” as Lingan was wheeled through the hospital.

“She came in desperately ill,” Nathanson says. “And is leaving with her future ahead of her. And how much more powerful can modern medicine be? That’s what we show up for every day.”

Holding back tears, McNabb says: “It’s emotional and overwhelming. It brings tears to my eyes that she’s going home to her family. I couldn’t ask for a better day.”

Lingan’s husband, who has fully recovered, and her twins, who never developed the disease, were waiting outside the hospital to take her home.

“It’s heaven for me,” she says. “I miss them a lot. They’re my life. I have a second chance at life.”

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