By Sarah Hando
Keish Pares doesn’t hide the scars on her neck, even if she feels like others are staring.
They’re badges of honor. They’re reminders that she survived COVID-19.
The 27-year-old Northumberland resident had family and friends who contracted COVID-19 and lived to tell their tale. More than lived — many told her their symptoms were just like a typical cold.
So, when Ms. Pares woke up one day with chills and body aches, she didn’t expect to be too sick. After testing positive for COVID-19, she hunkered down in her home to rest.
But everything changed on Oct. 14 — her 11th day of quarantine.
“My husband says I woke up and told him I wasn’t feeling well, and something was wrong,” says Ms. Pares, who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 before her illness.
When she passed out in the hallway of her home, an ambulance rushed her to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.
Ms. Pares gets a kiss from her father. Her family is glad to have her back home.
An unexpected journey
Ms. Pares doesn’t remember much about her first 42 days at the hospital.
Her oxygen level was so low she had to be placed in a medically induced coma. She was on a ventilator to help her breathe. Her blood was circulated through her body via ECMO, an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine. This device, reserved for the sickest COVID patients, helps oxygenate the blood while giving the patient’s heart and lungs a rest.
Ms. Pares finally regained consciousness on Nov. 22, and she says there was talk of a possible lung transplant if her condition didn’t improve. But her body started healing, and doctors began weaning her off a few medications.
On Dec. 16, after three months in the hospital, Ms. Pares went home.
Regaining her strength
Even now, her journey isn’t over. The scars on Ms. Pares’ throat — from being connected to those lifesaving machines during her hospital stay — are a constant reminder of her experience. She also dropped 60 pounds, lost quite a bit of hair and has “foot drop,” a nerve condition from being bed-bound.
Her breathing issues persist, and she’s especially careful around others who have symptoms of illness. No one is more aware of this than her 8-year-old son, Ian.
“He knows that if I do get sick, I might have to go the hospital again,” she says. “My family was very clear with Ian about what happened. It’s like he’s grown from 8 to 18 years old during this time.”
Ms. Pares says she’s more aware of the effects and unpredictability of COVID-19. She didn’t have any of the preexisting conditions that put a person at risk of a more severe reaction to the virus.
And now she’s an advocate for being vaccinated against COVID-19.
Unable to return to her job at a call center, she now spends her time watching her two nieces, both under 3 years old. But being with family is time well spent. She’s not only aware of COVID, but also that life is precious. “My family and I are definitely closer now,” she says.
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COVID is definitely real.“It affects everyone differently,” she says. “The vaccine is not a cure, but it will prevent people from getting as sick as I was.”