GLA honors recovery of 82 yr old Vet with COVID-19 - VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
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GLA honors recovery of 82 yr old Vet with COVID-19

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Loretta Williams, 82-year-old Air Force Veteran, is discharged from the medical facility on VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System’s (VAGLAHS) West Los Angeles campus on May 13, 2020, after recovering from COVID-19. She is given a true Heroes send off by staff and clinicians.

By Medina Ayala-Lo | Photo by Rachel Nolan
Wednesday, May 13, 2020

LOS ANGELES – Loretta Williams is full of life. In her 82 years of life, she has experienced many things. She is a United States Air Force Veteran, a mother to six children, and a grandmother to nine. She makes her own business cards that contain gems of wisdom and pleasant illustrations. She has lived all over the world. In her retirement years, she spends much of her time volunteering at her local VA in Tucson, Ariz. But on March 28, 2020, this vibrant soul was taken to the Emergency Room at the hospital on VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System’s (VAGLAHS) West Los Angeles campus after becoming one of the more than 1.4 million Americans diagnosed with the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

And now on May 13, 2020 a little more than a month after Williams was admitted to VAGLAHS’ medical facility, she was discharged from the hospital with a clean bill of health.

“Everyone who has been in my corner, I think they’re all working here with the purpose of doing their job and helping,” said Loretta Williams, United States Air Force Veteran. “And it’s not about dollars and cents, it’s about ‘I can do this.’”

Williams’ road to recovery was a bumpy one. Shortly after she was admitted to the hospital she slipped into a coma and was placed on a ventilator where she remained for approximately two weeks.

“Studies have shown that [in relation to COVID-19] the longer you’re on the ventilator, the worse the prognosis is,” said Blessen Eapen, MD, Chief, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). “But she’s had a remarkable recovery.”

After nearly a month of being an inpatient here, it was determined by Williams’ medical team that she could benefit from additional forms of treatment so on April 29, she was transferred from the Medicine Service to PM&R- Acute Rehabilitation Unit (ARU) where she received care that significantly contributed to her overall recovery.  

“The COVID-19 therapies that are happening on the ARU are unique and there are only a handful of VA or civilian rehabilitation centers nationally that are providing acute rehab for patients diagnosed with COVID-19,” Eapen said.

The ARU is an interdisciplinary team comprised of a physical Therapist, occupational Therapy, recreational therapy, rehabilitation nursing staff and Mental Health, and the team is led by the PM&R physician or physiatrist. The choice to transfer a patient to the ARU and the determination of which services they’ll receive is entirely dependent on that patient’s prognosis. 

“The program for the COVID-19 patients are tailored to what their needs are depending on what condition they had,” Eapen said. “Not all COVID positive patients require acute rehabilitation. Some patients who are diagnosed do well enough to go home and come back for outpatient therapies.”

Williams was the first COVID-19 patient that the ARU treated. During her stay she received interdisciplinary rehabilitation care but the physical therapy and occupational therapy made up a bulk of her treatment because that was her biggest barrier to being discharged home.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to see the camaraderie amongst the staff in taking care of these Veterans,” Eapen said. “Ms. Williams was the center of the therapies and she did the hard work and made such great progress. That makes us feel fantastic because all the hard work that she and the interdisciplinary team put in made a huge impact on her long term functional status.”

As far as her recovery goes, Williams still has a bit of a journey ahead of her. “My children are still worried about me, but I feel that I will get stronger and stronger,” Williams said. “I mentally tell myself ‘I don’t have time for this’ and I think that’s how I got through [this experience]. I really feel extremely blessed and extremely lucky.”

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