At age 33, Maribel Cortes faces many challenges ahead, but intensive inpatient therapy at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, NY helped her prepare for them. She is a COVID-19 survivor, whose No. 1 risk was she works in a nursing home.
COVID-19 impacts younger adults
And she is not alone. The Paul Rosenthal Rehabilitation department at Northern Dutchess Hospital has had three patients under age 35 who had life-threatening cases of COVID-19 and needed weeks of hospital-based rehab before returning home. The one thing they had in common besides age is they worked in nursing or group home facilities.
Diagnosis and intensive care
Cortes, of Poughkeepsie,
tested positive shortly after her exposure at work to a COVID-19-positive
nursing home resident. A few days later, she became symptomatic. She couldn’t
take a deep breath, had stomach pains and experienced abnormal uterine bleeding.
As each breath became
excruciating, “I told my husband I can’t do it anymore,” she said. They headed
to the Vassar Brothers Medical Center emergency department, where she was
admitted to intensive care.
Cortes spent all of February
in the ICU unconscious, fighting for her life. After weeks on a ventilator and
post-tracheostomy, where oxygen is delivered through a hole in her neck, she
beat COVID-19 pneumonia. But not without major setbacks. Her body was ravaged
“When I woke up, the ICU nurses told me it was March,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Thank you, God,’ because I stayed here and I’m here for my daughters.” Her little girls are ages 4 and 8.
Inpatient rehabilitation offers hope
Once medically stable, Cortes
was transferred to Northern Dutchess Hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation
department, where she received speech, physical and occupational therapies for
several hours each day and around-the-clock nursing care. Each small step, like
using the bathroom or brushing her hair independently, felt like a victory.
Laura Dipper was her occupational therapist.
“Her muscles were like jelly, and even a week ago, she couldn’t stand up or hold an object,” Dipper said. “What I like about OT is we can have fun but do things that are therapeutic.” And Cortes doesn’t give up easily.
“We love working with her. She never says no,” Dipper said. “If she starts shaking and her oxygen drops, she still wants to keep going. She has the sweetest heart, but she’s really tough.”
Therapy focuses on patient’s interests
Cortes loves cooking, so on a
recent Friday afternoon about two week before her discharge date, they made her
eldest daughter’s favorite dessert – flan.
As the patient cracked eggs and stirred the caramelized sugar for the flan, Cortes joked about her arm muscles: “No more jelly,” she said.
The kitchen-based therapy
session not only helped her regain some strength, it reminded her of what she’s
working so hard to achieve: to be in her own home with her children and husband
enjoying her cooking and with COVID-19 behind them.
Cortes’ advice? You can’t be
too careful, even if you are young.
“COVID is dangerous. I see
the other people (infected) and when it takes me, I say, ‘Oh my god,’” she
Learn more about our Northern Dutchess Hospital’s inpatient rehab services.
Learn more about COVID-19, including how to get vaccinated.
Disclaimer: This story is one patient’s experience, recounted here for educational and general informational purposes only.