Jacquelynne G Off the Ventilator and Back to Life After COVID

“Their compassion literally melted me down. They are an amazing group of people who came together and said no matter what, they were going to be there for me and get me through this.”

Jacquelynne Goode’s dramatic journey into the frightening depths of COVID-19 complications began innocently enough.

“I couldn’t smell my perfume,” says Jacquelynne, 56, a Plainfield resident who credits the determined professionals at Kindred Hospital New Jersey Rahway and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Rahway for her recovery.

“I kept spraying it and I still couldn’t smell it,” she recalls of her initial COVID symptoms in March of 2020, just as the pandemic was overrunning northern New Jersey. “I tried another perfume and I couldn’t smell that. Then I noticed I couldn’t taste.”

Before long, she developed a “horrible cough” and became so weak “I couldn’t make it past the front door.” That’s when her husband took her to a local urgent care facility.

Jacquelynne’s condition rapidly deteriorated as she developed acute respiratory failure, requiring her to be hospitalized and placed on a ventilator. She also underwent blood transfusions and other treatments to stabilize her condition.

By early May, Jacquelynne, who was still on a ventilator and was experiencing cognitive issues, was transferred to Kindred, a 34-bed transitional care hospital on the fourth floor of RWJUH Rahway. This specialized “hospital within a hospital” is a long-term acute care facility. One of its specialties is weaning patients off ventilators.

In Jacquelynne’s case, treatment would mean respiratory therapy, ongoing medical treatment and physical and occupational rehabilitation.

A Long Road

“We thought once she had survived the initial onslaught of COVID that eventually, with a lot of work, mostly on her part and some on our part, she would be able to come off the ventilator,” says Barry Wolf, MD, a pulmonary internist at Kindred. “Whether that would be two weeks, two months, we didn’t really know.”

“I woke up in June and that was my first idea of consciousness,” Jacquelynne remembers. Still having cognitive issues, she kept trying to remove her trachea tube and frequently resisted the efforts of physical therapists as they tried to exercise her arms and legs. “I was a horrible patient at first,” she says.

But her caregivers understood. “Most of us do not have a chunk of plastic sticking out of our neck,” says Mitch Fircha, LPN, who coordinated the various aspects of Jacquelynne’s care. “Very uncomfortable, I’m sure.”

Fortunately, she was in the hands of experienced clinicians. Her team included physical therapist Terri Lander, PT/MSPT, DPT, and occupational therapist Louella Minoza, OTR/L, who work downstairs from Kindred in the Rehabilitation Services Department at RWJUH Rahway.

“Early on, usually physical therapy and occupational therapy co-treat,” Minoza explains. “You really need two people to handle the patient, especially one who has become deconditioned after a long period of illness and lack of movement.”

Starting Over

After several weeks, Fircha recalls, there was a moment when Jacquelynne finally began to understand where she was and what these strangers were trying to do.

“I came in one morning and the look on her face was different,” he says. “It went from that frantic, panicked expression to a look of recognition, a calm look. From that day on, she was much more cooperative and involved in her care to get better. It’s like she woke up from being ill, is the best way I can explain it.”

Her caregivers were relieved. “Eventually we were able to get her off the ventilator and take out her tracheostomy,” says Dr. Wolf.

From there, Lander focused on the physical therapy portion of Jacquelynne’s recovery, pairing with Minoza to help their patient out of bed.

“Physical therapy deals with bigger movements,” Lander explains. “You want to make sure the patient can stand up and balance, walk, do stairs.”

During the same time period, Minoza worked with Jacquelynne on occupational therapy, helping her regain fine motor skills and reacclimate to the activities of daily living.

“They worked really hard,” Jacquelynne says. “I remember my first step. I cried because I had thought I was never going to walk again.”

All of this went on during the peak of the pandemic, a difficult period for both patients and staff, when visits and even movements within the building were limited. Jacquelynne praises her caregivers for going above the call of duty.

“I made sure to give Jacquelynne pep talks every day,” Dr. Wolf says. “I would tell her, ‘You can do this. Stay calm and you will be able to get well and go home.’”

Jacquelynne’s stay at Kindred lasted six months but, in the end, she was indeed able to return home to continue her recovery.

Fircha remembers the staff gathering in the hall to clap her out. Patrick O’Connor, MPT, MBA, CEO of Kindred Hospital New Jersey Rahway, wheeled Jacquelynne out as “Here Comes the Sun” played on the loudspeakers.

“She came in strapped to a machine and tied to the bed for her own safety,” Fircha said. “To see her heading out of the building to go home was great. It was a wonderful feeling to know that I was able to help her get to that point.”

“My faith in Jesus Christ strengthens me and brings everything together,” Jaquelynne says. But she will always remember the caregivers who helped her get her life back.

“Their compassion literally melted me down,” she says. “They are an amazing group of people who came together and said no matter what, they were going to be there for me and get me through this.”

To learn more about the Post-COVID Recovery Program and about physical and occupational therapy at RWJUH Rahway, call 732-499-6012.