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'Tell people thank you': Nebraska's first coronavirus patient is home after monthlong hospital stay
special report

'Tell people thank you': Nebraska's first coronavirus patient is home after monthlong hospital stay

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LINCOLN — Nebraska’s first coronavirus patient is now home, giving thanks and playing an ornery game she’s played with her father all her life — a pillow fight.

“Every time I wake up in the mornings, or when I get up from a nap, I take my pillow and smack him with it,” she said. “That’s one of the games we’ve been doing since I was a kid.”

On Saturday, the 36-year-old woman — whose identity The World-Herald has agreed to keep private — was allowed to leave the Nebraska Medicine ward where she’d been since March 6, after testing positive for COVID-19.

A photograph of her being transported in an inflatable bubble to the hospital has been one of the enduring images of the coronavirus crisis in the state.

But on her exit from Nebraska Medicine on Saturday, balloons were tied to her wheelchair, and she carried a get-well card signed by her caregivers who “cared so perfectly for her,” according to her 77-year-old father.

“The smile on her face told everything,” he said.

The “Hi, Dad,” she voiced as she was wheeled out of the hospital, according to the father, outdid a similar greeting from her when she was removed from a ventilator on March 24.

“She wanted to take the long way home, to take in everything,” he added.

Now, though, she’s recovering at home, still using a feeding tube to help avoid any infections in her lungs and still being isolated pending a final test to determine when she’s totally in the clear.

“Once everything dies down and the world goes back to normal, my friend Ken is going to take me out to dinner at my favorite restaurant,” she said. That is the Brazen Head, an Irish pub in central Omaha.

Her father, a native of London, had traveled with his daughter, who is adopted and has special needs, to Britain from Feb. 18 to 27 for a family birthday celebration there.

The daughter, who has had lifelong respiratory problems, participated in a Special Olympics basketball tournament in Fremont on Feb. 29, and then complained of headaches.

Her father has said that he had “absolutely no idea” that she might have contracted the coronavirus. Her coughing and runny nose were common due to birth defects that had required surgery, her father said, and he suspected that the headaches were caused by a collision during the tournament. She had visited a handful of emergency rooms before showing COVID-19 symptoms the day before she was diagnosed.

Initial social media response to her ordeal was harsh, with many blaming her for negligently spreading the virus. But once her father shared her story with the newspaper, attitudes changed, by and large. Offers of help and best wishes poured in.

In her first public comments to a reporter, over the phone on Wednesday, she said, “Tell people thank you. And I’m doing a lot better.”

She said it was challenging being on a ventilator. She couldn’t talk because she had a tube down her throat, so she wrote messages on a clipboard and tapped on it to draw attention to them.

Her father said she liked her caregivers, especially a couple of techs who painted her nails while she was in the hospital. One showed her photographs of their dog.

Now that she’s home with her parents, she’s able to keep up speech and physical therapy sessions via video calls. She lost 35 pounds while in the hospital.

“She’s happy about that,” her father said.

She spends her time doing word puzzles and talking with friends on the telephone, as well as watching movies on a laptop.

Until she gets an all-clear from county health officials, she’s confined to her room. Her father said there is no expectation on when she’ll be released from recovery, but that she no longer shows symptoms of the virus.

For the time being, he must don a face mask and gown when he feeds his daughter and provides medication through the feeding tube.

That, he said, is a “small price” to pay for having his daughter out of the hospital.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

Related to this story

  • Updated

The state employees union on Thursday called on Gov. Pete Ricketts to immediately allow more state workers to work from home during the coronavirus outbreak, and to provide an extra $2 an hour in “hazard” pay for those who must report. But Ricketts dismissed the request, saying that while some state workers are being allowed to work from home, others need to keep staffing public offices.

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