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Local woman describes life-threatening COVID-19 experience
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Coronavirus
Fighting to breathe

Local woman describes life-threatening COVID-19 experience

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Jamie Sisk considers herself one of the lucky ones, even though she has been in the intensive-care unit of a local hospital since Monday.

She has been fighting for her life since she started showing symptoms of COVID-19 two weeks ago on Father’s Day.

She talked to The News Herald on Friday from her hospital room about her fight and the outpouring of love, prayers and support she has received from well-wishers. Missionary Ridge Baptist Church held a drive-in prayer service for Sisk on Friday evening for the community and anyone else who wanted to attend.

Life was good

Sisk, 44, has been married to her husband, Clay, for 19 years, and the couple have a son and daughter. She was working as a nurse, and their son had recently graduated from high school.

Sisk works as a nurse in Morganton and took pretty good care of herself and had read up on the new virus that has devastated lives, families and economies throughout the world.

She has asthma, but it was well-controlled, and she has an autoimmune condition but was otherwise fairly healthy, Sisk said.

COVID-19 cut short the senior year of Sisk’s son, Tucker, 17. He decided to go to North Myrtle Beach with some friends in early June after graduating from Draughn High School.

He got back home Friday, June 12, and things seemed fine.

The following Wednesday, Tucker started having mild cold symptoms, Sisk said.

The next day, he had a fever for a couple of hours and then was fine after he took something for it, she said. That Friday, he lost his taste of smell, which is one of the big symptoms of the virus, Sisk said.

That same day, one of Tucker’s friends got results from his COVID-19 test back and it was positive for the virus.

In fact, seven of the eight friends, including Tucker, tested positive for COVID-19, Sisk said.

Sisk was sent home from work that Friday as a preventive measure. She didn’t get it from anybody at work and didn’t expose anyone to the virus, she believes. Where she works has been taking the virus very seriously, Sisk said. They wear masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, and she even wore a surgical scrub cap, she said.

By that Sunday, Sisk started showing symptoms. The symptoms started out mild, she said, getting hot and clammy, feeling achy with chills and a low-grade fever.

But the symptoms progressed through the night, she said.

The week became a blur for her, Sisk said. Because of her asthma and autoimmune disease, Sisk’s doctor checked on her every day using e-Visits, she said.

Her doctor started her on the steroids that Tuesday, and by Thursday, she was getting worse. Her doctor started her on oxygen at home.

On Saturday night, she couldn’t get a breath and Sisk was scared she was going to die. She ended up at Catawba Valley Medical Center.

The hospital tested Sisk for the virus at the emergency room. It came back positive for COVID-19.

Scared for her life

COVID-19 has swept through her family, infecting her husband, son and daughter, Courtney. While they all had relatively mild symptoms — her husband is still feeling some effects — Sisk ended up in the ICU on oxygen and receiving numerous treatments to try to keep her alive.

“There were times when I begged God to give me breath ’cause I just didn’t think it was coming,” Sisk said about her fight against the virus.

And that was her being on 15 liters of oxygen.

On Monday morning, she was moved to the ICU. Doctors were giving her 80 percent oxygen. One doctor told her she was close to being put on a ventilator.

She was nauseated and has had no appetite. Friday was the first time she had been able to eat a little, Sisk said. She estimates she’s lost 10 to 15 pounds.

“I’m a nurse and I take pretty good care of myself and I knew it would be rough for me if I got it,” Sisk said. ”But I never honestly thought I would be laying in bed thinking it might be my last breath.

“I have too much life in me not to fight.”

She’s still on oxygen and taking her fight one day at a time, saying her doctors don’t want to rush anything.

To fight the virus, Sisk said, doctors have given her anti-viral medication, plasma from previous COVID patients, antibiotics, strong steroids, blood-thinner shots and lots of breathing treatments. She praises the care the doctors, nurses and CNAs have given her at Catawba Valley Medical Center. She said the care has been phenomenal.

Sick said she’s still not 100 percent, but is much better than she was.

All three of her doctors had pretty good results for her Friday, saying she is moving in the right direction. While she still has a long way to go, Sisk said moving forward is better than moving backward.

A warning

Because of the highly contagious nature that is COVID-19, people who end up in the hospital have to fight the disease without the comfort of family and friends being able to visit.

And that is true for Sisk. It gets lonely, she said.

The nurses and CNAs are her cheerleaders and are fabulous, Sisk said. They come by her door and cheer her up throughout the day.

She has been using video chats with her family when she can. Some days, however, she’s been so short of breath that all she could do was just look at them.

Sisk said she knows her family wants her home, but they want her home well.

When she does get out of the hospital, she said, they won’t be able to hold her back from hugging her husband and kids.

Until then, Sisk is warning people to take COVID-19 seriously.

In a video she posted to her Facebook page Thursday, she warns, “Guys, COVID-19 is real. It may not affect you like it has me but it could affect one of you loved ones like this, too. So wash your hands, social distance, wear your mask and just be as careful as you can, ’cause I don’t wish this on anyone.”

Sisk said she got on Facebook on Thursday morning so people could see what COVID looks like. She had no idea how much reach her video would have. As of Friday night, the post had received 302 comments and been shared more than 200 times.

She said the outreach from people who have seen the video has been overwhelming, with people expressing their love, prayers and encouragement for her.

Sisk told The News Herald she knows there are people who are so mad about wearing a mask, “But I’ll tell you, this stuff is real.

“And I’m one of the lucky ones. That’s the kicker, I’m one of the lucky ones that will come out on the other side.”

Positive cases of COVID-19 continue to climb in Burke County, and 20 residents have died due to the virus.

Sisk said while one person who tests positive for the virus may have very mild symptoms like her son and daughter, they may come in contact with a family member who is fighting something they may not even know they have going on.

She said no two people are affected by the virus in the same way, which makes it hard to treat.

“It’s just so broad how it can affect people,” Sisk said. “People have lost kidney function, liver failure, amputations and a lot of people end up on a ventilator.”

When The News Herald asked her what she would say to people who don’t believe the virus is real or can be so devastating, Sisk said she is living proof that it is real.

“When you’re on the brink of death, your eyes are totally open in a different light,” Sisk said. “It’s not just a novel pandemic. It’s real.”

She is warning people that if they feel unwell, they probably aren’t well and should monitor their temperature and symptoms. If they think they’ve been in contact with someone who may have COVID-19, they should follow up with their doctor because it can turn pretty dire very quickly, Sisk said.

“Wear those masks whether it makes you mad or not, wash those hands and stay away from people as much as you can,” Sisk said.

Especially, she said, those who want that next vacation or birthday with their loved ones.

“I have a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old and a fabulous husband that I need to get home to,” Sisk said. She also has her patients that she can’t wait to get back to.

“If I can reach one person and make a difference, I guess that’s God’s plan for me. He’ll use it.”

Sharon McBrayer can be reached at smcbrayer@morganton.com or at 828-432-8946.

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