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COVID-19 survivor looks forward to traveling again

Hopewell resident entered a clinical trial and survived COVID-19 at VCU Health.

Linda Thompson Linda Thompson

Contributed by the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research

When Linda Thompson retired from the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2019, she started a new job the next day — getting fit.

“My new job was going to American Family Fitness and getting in the pool and doing water aerobics,” said Thompson, 72. “I was really in bad shape when I retired. So it was time for me to take care of Linda.”

Thompson lost 60 pounds over the next year. The exercise, her doctors said, helped save her life. The grandmother of two contracted COVID-19 in January and landed at VCU Health, where doctors, nurses and other staff worked diligently to get her well.

At the health system, she had access to cutting-edge treatments for COVID-19 in the form of clinical trials. She joined one. Even if it didn’t help her, she thought, her participation would provide valuable insights into what might work. 

“Anything to help fight against COVID-19 in the future, I'd be willing to do,” Thompson said. “I didn't have to think twice about it.”

Disease progressed rapidly

At first, Thompson wasn’t very sick. She had a fever, congestion, a sore throat. But her oxygen was getting low. The local hospital gave her a prescription for prednisone and sent her home.

“That was on Wednesday,” said Thompson, who lives in Hopewell. “And on Sunday I got in the shower, and it was like I couldn't move. I was so weak.”

Her husband drove her to VCU Health that day. “Thank goodness he did,” she said.

At VCU Health, Thompson quickly went from critical care to intensive care. She was put on a machine to maintain her circulation and was almost placed on a ventilator.

“Thankfully I wasn’t put on the ventilator, and I went back to critical care after a few days,” she said. Still, she was extremely ill.

Paying it forward through clinical trials

Thompson qualified for a trial called ACTIV-1, which sought to test the efficacy and safety of three drugs used in combination with remdesivir.

Remdesivir was the first drug approved by the FDA for treatment of COVID-19. VCU Health began offering the remdesivir trials to patients in March 2020.

"I just said, "Yes, I would love to join the trial," Thompson said. "I know that people donated plasma, and I received some of that plasma. They did something to help me, and I wanted to do something to help others.”

Thompson doesn’t know if she received the placebo or the actual drug, but she was happy to try the medication and keep track of any side effects for investigators. "Other than that, I didn’t really realize that I was in a trial,” she said.

VCU Health has joined several COVID-19 clinical trials over the past year and has even led some of them. Clinical trials are one of the many ways the research institution provides innovative options to treatment when choices are few. COVID-19 made the importance of clinical trials, and the people who participate in them, very clear.

“Top of the line care” at VCU Health

With no visitors allowed, Thompson’s hospital stay was lonely. But her care team helped shepherd her through this difficult experience.

“I can't say enough about the doctors and nurses and the care that I got,” she said. “They were excellent. I couldn’t have asked for any better care.”

Thompson said her memory of her hospital stay is foggy, but she remembers the kindness of the man in charge of cleaning the COVID-19 rooms, Ronnie Leeper. And she’s grateful to her doctor and the many specialists who helped her recover, including Dr. David Jessee, Dr. Peter Jackson, Dr. Rebecca Miller and Dr. James O’Connor.

“Dr. Jessee and the nurses were wonderful about calling my husband and explaining things in terms that he could understand about how I was doing and what they were expecting,” Thompson said. “It was top of the line care in my opinion.”

Her husband was finally able to pick her up on February 12.

“I was so thrilled to see him,” Thompson said. “When you're so sick and you don't see him and can only talk on the phone, the ride home was special.”

Back home and ready to set sail

After a few weeks recovering at home, Thompson is back to normal.

“The doctor told me it would probably take until April for me to get well,” she said. “And he was right on the money.”

She’s fully vaccinated now and back doing water aerobics and going on walks. Her lungs feel normal, and she appreciates the time retirement afforded her to work on her health before pandemic.

“Because I started exercising, my lung capacity went from 69% to 89%, before I got COVID-19,” she said. “That was good because my lungs were in much better shape.”

She’s also ready for the cruise industry to rebound. An avid traveler, Thompson has trips to Australia, Hawaii and Tahiti planned for 2022.

“I appreciate life more now,” she said. “I had a lot of people praying for me, and I know that helped.”

For more information

For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping patients safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

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