Kelly Pleacher always loved helping others. She was a teachers aid, Sunday school teacher and volunteer at charity golf outings. She was a vibrant member of her community in DuBois, Pennsylvania, where she lived with her husband, Tim.
On October 3, 2021, at 59 years old, Kelly was rushed to the DuBois Hospital in acute respiratory distress. She had been diagnosed with COVID-19 only a few days prior and was not breathing well enough to maintain sufficient oxygen levels in her blood. They told her husband the grim news that Kelly was expected to pass if they could not increase her oxygen levels.
That morning the decision was made to move Kelly to the intensive care unit of the hospital and begin a dangerous procedure called proning. While ventilated, and on full life support, Kelly would be turned onto her stomach. This would allow the fluid in her lungs to move forward, exposing more lung tissue to the open parts of her chest. It would allow more oxygen to get into her blood and reduce the risk of damaging her vital organs.
“Her doctors told me that it was risky, but that it was also the only hope of restoring the oxygen supply to her lungs,” said Tim. “They also asked if I wanted to add ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ to her orders before the procedure began. We didn’t know it at the time, but that morning was just the beginning of a struggle for her very life; first against COVID-19 and then against a debilitating stroke”.
While she was hospitalized, Kelly suffered a stroke in the left side of her brain. She survived but was left with limited use of her right side and a condition known as aphasia that severely impaired her speech. Aphasia affects a person’s ability to process and understand language. A person with aphasia can think clearly and understand what other people are saying, but may have difficulty responding.
In all, Kelly spent 17 days on full ventilation, 43 days in intensive care, and a record 80 total days in the hospital.
“Kelly’s physical recovery has been nothing short of a miracle,” said Tim. “From only being able to stand near her hospital bed for 30 seconds at a time in November 2021 to walking around the block of our little community today. She is dressing herself and doing household chores. It’s been a struggle, but she has such dogged determination, she won’t allow herself to give up.”
Tim also reports that her speech has been very slow in returning, but it is coming back.
“When she first came home she often said ‘no’ when she meant ‘yes,’ and had trouble identifying household objects. Today she helps prepare the grocery list, and enjoys telling me where to go.”
In addition to sharing their story with church groups and other organizations, Tim recently wrote a book detailing Kelly’s illness and her long road to recovery. The book is called “Life, Light and Love Beyond Covid?”
“It’s the story of the miracles that have been her recovery; the work of the dedicated hospital staff, the turmoil of family and friends, and lessons the journey has taught us,” said Tim.
One review of the book by Joyce Dunn says, “This book not only educates all to the misery caused by covid, but to the courage and strength of the human spirit! Kelly displays to all the best in this world!”
The book is available in e-book and paperback format and available on Amazon, Booklocker and other book sellers. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
Communications Director for the American Heart Association in Central Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, York, State College, Altoona and Johnstown.