PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A New Port Richey mom describes her teenager’s recovery from COVID-19 as a miracle. Now, she and her daughter are sharing their story in hopes of inspiring others to take the virus seriously and to thank the healthcare heroes for putting their lives on the line every day.
For 19-year-old Julia Riccardi, it started in August with a low-grade fever.
“I never lost my taste and I never lost my smell,” she recalled.
She also never had trouble breathing. It wasn’t until Julia’s mom, Jennifer, discovered Julia’s fingernails and toenails turning bright purple that she realized something was really wrong and rushed Julia to the ER at North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey. By then, her oxygen level had dropped to 50%.
“They got me a bed, I remember getting an oxygen mask and that’s all I remember,” Julia explained.
COVID protocols kept Jennifer Riccardi from being able to be by her daughter’s side at the hospital. “We found out the next morning they had placed Julia on a ventilator. Everything I had read about COVID or heard on the news is when someone goes onto a ventilator they don’t often come off,” Jennifer said.
Doctors suggested ECMO, a heart-lung bypass operation for critically ill patients, but there weren’t enough beds. Julia was quickly getting worse and since she has diabetes, she was at a higher risk.
“The intensivist was like ‘I’m at a loss. I don’t know what your faith is but if you pray, you need to pray’,” she recalled. “You see like in the movies where the ladies just like lose it and fall to the ground that was me.”
Jennifer’s sister, who works in healthcare, had a colleague suggest Julia be transferred to a specialty children’s hospital. Julia was transferred to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete. The hospital accepts patients up to 21 years old. Doctors put her on a ventilator, gave her Remdesivir (an anti-viral medication) and steroids to help bring down the inflammation. She was also given anticoagulants to prevent blood clots, an antibiotic to treat a secondary bacterial infection, and insulin to keep her diabetes in check.
“From that point everything they tried she responded well to,” Jennifer recalled.
Doctors gave Julia time for her body to fight off the virus and her progress was stunning.
“Many nurses and a couple doctors did say if you don’t believe in miracles that’s one sitting right there (pointing at my daughter) because when they did finally get her off the sedation and the ventilator typically you go right onto an oxygen mask or bi-pap and she went on nothing. She improved right away,” Jennifer added.
Julia has now made nearly a full recovery five months later. Her only lingering symptom is voice loss which her mom suspects may have been from the intubation.
Julia and Jennifer Riccardi are sharing their story and hoping it will encourage others to do everything they can to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
“If you don’t think it’s that big of a deal, shift your thought a little bit. Just take it that much more seriously,” Julia said.
They also want to thank the healthcare heroes at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, North Bay Hospital, and hospitals nationwide.
“They’re amazing humans. I hope they know the impact that they had on me and my family,” Jennifer said.
“It will stick with me forever,” Julia added.