A Yukon First Nations woman says she’s lucky to be alive after almost dying from COVID-19.
Lisa Anderson, 40, of the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin First Nation in Dawson City, Yukon, has spent the last two months in a Vancouver hospital after contracting the virus.
She was not vaccinated at the time.
“I had a false sense of security that ‘no way it’s going to be COVID,’” she tells APTN News from her hospital room.
In early June, Anderson moved from Whitehorse to Dawson to work for her First Nation for the summer.
She says at the time, she was reluctant to get the Moderna vaccine, which is the vaccine available for adults in the Yukon. She says she had concerns over adverse effects like seizures.
“Because it’s so new I wanted to wait until it was a little more researched and established before I considered taking it,” she says.
The government of Canada’s website notes COVID-19 vaccines “have been rigorously tested during their development and then carefully reviewed by Health Canada” and serious side effects are rare.
Only 2,672 or 0.006 of all doses administered in Canada have resulted in a serious side effect.
But just days before starting her new job, Anderson began to develop a fever. She says at the time there was no active COVID-19 cases in the territory.
She went to the hospital in Dawson City where she received x-rays of her lungs. Anderson thought at that point she had possibly contracted pneumonia.
She was given antibiotics and released from the hospital. But upon waking the next day, she felt worse.
“As the day went on I felt terrible. I had a fever. I was really dehydrated, I really wanted to drink a lot of fluids,” she recalls.
Anderson went back to the hospital where she was kept overnight. The next day she received a rapid COVID-19 test, where she tested positive for the virus.
By then her oxygen levels were dropping dangerously low and Anderson was medevaced to the Whitehorse General hospital which was better equipped to help COVID-19 patients.
She says in Whitehorse “they put this mask on me that was shooting oxygen… the virus had attacked my lungs pretty strongly.”
By next day, her condition had taken a dangerous turn.
“The anesthesiologist came in and basically said we need to intubate you and get you to Vancouver right now,” she says.
Not knowing if she’d ever wake up again, Anderson hastily called her cousin and made her executor for her children who are 14, 15 and 19.
“She prayed for me on the messenger call, and after her I only had a few more minutes, so, I called my children and said I’m going to sleep for awhile so just talk to me normally, I’ll be able to hear them while I’m sleeping,” she says.
My daughter broke down crying, I was really sad because I knew there was a 50/50 chance once you’re intubated whether you’ll wake up or not.
“It was an unknown, an uncertainty.”
Anderson was then put into a medically induced coma for five weeks.
“The doctors were worried I was going to have brain damage due to my lack of oxygen, and basically it came down to one last opportunity, one last chance and that was to do a tracheotomy on me…Luckily my body responded to that and I started to breath,” she says.
She says medical staff informed her she had also died at one point due to lack of oxygen but was resuscitated.
Looking back at the ordeal, Anderson thinks the thought of leaving her children was her “driving force” to survive.
“I’ve lived a full life with no regrets, however, my children was where I wasn’t ready to go. I love my children so much,” she says.
Anderson is now COVID-free but has lost the majority of her muscle mass. She will need to go to physical therapy for six to eight weeks in Vancouver so she can build strength to stand and walk again.
She is also on steroids because her left lung has been damaged from the virus. Because of the steroids she has to take insulin and has had over 400 insulin shots administered into her stomach.
Anderson says the damage from the virus will most likely be lifelong.
“There’s a good chance I’ll be on puffers for the rest of my life. I’ll be followed by a lung specialist team for the rest of my life,” she says.
She says in total she’ll spend around 16 weeks in the hospital, and that being away for so long from her children has been difficult for them.
“They definitely feel a little bit troubled. I know my daughter is having a bit of a hard time, not necessarily coming to terms, but having me away because we were so bonded,” she says.
She notes contracting the virus has also had financial implications as she is the sole provider for her family and will not have an income for the last eight weeks as well as the foreseeable future.
‘Go get the vaccine’
Anderson doesn’t fully know how she contracted COVID-19. She suspects she might have gotten it from someone who was in an establishment and later tested positive for the virus around the same time she was there.
While there were no reported cases at the time Anderson started showing symptoms, on June 5, Yukon government reported four new cases.
Since then the Yukon has been grappling with an outbreak and has reported 541 cases and six deaths.
The Yukon government’s website notes “the current spread is primarily due to transmissions among people who are unvaccinated.”
Anderson says she now sees things differently when it comes to getting vaccinated.
“When I look back on it based on what my experience is, I would have rather taken my chance with the vaccine then go through what I’m going through right now,” she says.
She’s hopeful sharing her story will encourage others to get vaccinated.
“Go get the vaccine, you don’t want this to happen to you. It’s a miracle I’m here, and I would never ever want any of you to suffer and go through what I’ve had to go through.”
In Canada, 1.4 million people have contracted the virus – 26,617 have died. It’s not clear how many people are still recovering or feeling side affects of the illness.