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One year later and making a comeback from COVID

Mind, Spirit, Body

When she opened her eyes, Pauline Morales, found herself laying in a hospital bed, unable to move or speak. She was hooked to several machines, including a ventilator which was helping her breath.

She stared at the sliding glass doors to her room inside the Intensive Care Unit at Adventist Health Hanford, thinking she had been in a car accident.

“I thought I was just in the hospital overnight, but then was told I had been there for 32 days. I couldn’t believe it!”

Morales was the hospital’s first diagnosed COVID-19 patient on March 24, 2020.

“I’ll never forget when they told me I had COVID-19. I told the nurses and doctors, ‘please don’t let me die.’”

Because of the effects of COVID-19 and her underlying conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, Morales suffered a stroke and lost all feeling on the left side of her body. Her kidneys were also affected, and her organs began to shut down.

“She had a 10 to 15% chance of survival but pulled through a lot of complications. It’s amazing she’s alive,” says Dr. Deanna Oliver, the hospitalist who cared for Morales on the first and last day in the ICU. She also was the first face Morales remembers.

“There were many doctors and nurses coming in and out, but I will never forget her face,” says Morales. “I had such great, compassionate care. Everyone was so good to me. They would help me dial my cell phone and put it to my ear so I could call my family.”

Though her loved ones couldn’t visit, due to safety precautions, the 48-year-old recalls her sister creating a picture board with images of Morales’ husband, three daughters and seven grandchildren.

“I think it was my will and faith in God that helped me pull through,” she says. “God wasn’t ready for me yet. He wanted to use me as a tool to help others.”

On May 2, 2020, nearly 40 days after arriving to the hospital, Morales was able to go home.

“All the nurses and doctors lined up in the hallway and clapped and cheered me on, as they wheeled me out of the ICU,” says Morales. “I remember crying and crying.”

One year later, the Selma native still has slightly scarred lungs, but no longer needs an oxygen tank to breath or a wheelchair or walker to get around and is regaining feeling in her left thumb and left foot, following her stroke.

“I still have the rubber spatula that the hospital’s physical therapist gave me to keep my hand straight, because when you suffer a stroke, your hand cramps up near your chest,” she says.

Morales describes her experience as a journey. She had to re-learn how to eat, walk and talk. She continues to see a cardiologist and pulmonologist.

“COVID-19 is no joke,” she says. “It’s a virus and it takes a toll. It’s like a rollercoaster.”

Once she makes a full recovery, which she’s determined to, Morales says she’s going to donate her antibodies to help other COVID-19 patients. She also hopes to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, when it’s available to her.

*Morales would like to thank the following Adventist Health Hanford staff who provided her with such compassionate care:

Alfredo, Andrew, Bree, Claudia, Cindy, Dolly, Eddie, Gaby, Irene, Jake, Jess, Joanna, John, Lauren, Laya, Lee, Leslie, Liana, Manda, Meg, Rosie, Sierra, Stephanie, Steve and Sylvia.