GRAND FORKS — After nearly dying from COVID-19, this Christmas Brittany King is looking at life with new eyes.
The 35-year-old Grand Forks woman spent three days in late November in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Altru Hospital after the birth of her son. She was so seriously ill that her husband, Cory King, started thinking about what kind of funeral he should plan for his wife.
Then, when King’s doctors were down to what they told Cory was the “last resort'' for treating Brittany’s COVID-19 case, she began to rally. A few days later, she was discharged from the hospital. Now, she’s at home with her husband, their infant son, Thomson, and 3-year-old daughter, Suttyn.
“I had a true Christmas miracle,” Brittany King said. “God is good."
The impact her brush with death had on her body, so far, doesn’t seem like it will have lingering effects, but the knowledge she almost died has changed her outlook on life.
“It really puts in perspective every day that you wake,” King said. “We both wake up a lot happier.”
She doesn’t know how she contracted the COVID-19 that almost killed her. She wasn’t working outside the home for months before the day she tested positive because she had a high-risk pregnancy, and, in an effort to avoid getting the illness, she ordered groceries to be delivered to the Kings' home, kept hand sanitizer in the car and wore a mask.
“I was really good,” she said.
But despite all of her precautions, on Nov. 23, the day Thomson was born by caesarean section, she tested positive for COVID-19. Several days before, after experiencing severe body aches, her physician had suggested she get tested.
King recalls the C-section surgery, but nothing about the seven days after it, though, for the first two of them she was awake and talking to her husband, Cory.
During those two days, except for not feeling well and having occasional labored breathing, Brittany didn’t appear to be seriously ill, Cory said.
“She was talking, she was laughing, she was eating,” he said. “Two days after she had Thomson is when she started to spiral downward.”
Brittany’s temperature spiked to 102.5, she had severely labored breathing and was shivering uncontrollably, he said.
On Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day, Brittany was transferred to Altru’s COVID-19 floor. The next morning she again was transferred, this time to the hospital’s COVID-19 intensive care unit in the basement.
After Brittany’s transfer to the COVID-ICU, doctors intubated her, and then sedated her and turned her body over so she was lying on her stomach. That was the turning point in her recovery.
“Once they were able to get her intubated, her body started coming around,” Cory said.
Cory and Suttyn, who also had tested positive for COVID-19, were quarantined at home and couldn’t visit Brittany while she was in the ICU. During the entire time she was there, Cory relied on three-a day calls from Altru for updates.
Feeling like he was on auto-pilot, Cory went through the daily tasks of taking care of Suttyn, he said. Besides the anxiety of being separated from Brittany, he couldn't hold his newborn son or even be in the same house with him.
Because Cory and Suttyn also tested positive for COVID-19, Brittany’s parents, Patty and John Hostar, who live in East Grand Forks, Minn., took care of the newborn for the first few weeks after his birth.
"We had an empty nursery we had worked so hard on,” Cory said.
On Dec 2, Brittany was discharged from the hospital, but had to be quarantined for another eight days, so could only see Thomson through a window, an excruciating situation for her and her husband.
The separation would have been even more difficult, though, if her parents hadn't been the ones taking care of Thomson while she was in the hospital, she said.
"There was nobody that I would rather have had him with," Brittany said.
Though she does not have lingering physical effects from her bout with COVID-19, the experience is wiped from her memory.
“We still go over things daily: ‘Do you remember this? Do you remember that?’" she said.
While Brittany was unaware of what was happening to her, Cory recalls it vividly, and teared up when talking about it.
“The morning when they told me either she starts improving or she wouldn’t make it ...." Cory said, his voice trailing off before he tried to compose himself enough to talk.
Brittany looked at Cory, their sleeping son nestled against his chest, and nodded toward her husband empathetically.
“I can’t imagine being in the situation he was in,” she said.
Cory’s faith in God and the support and prayers from people all over the world, from the United States, to Malaysia to Germany, helped him get through Brittany’s illness, he said. People learned about her COVID-19 case through his social media account and it was therapeutic for him to write daily updates to keep them informed about how she was doing, he said.
“I got contacted day and night by people reaching out on Facebook,” he said.
From the day Brittany was released from the hospital, people have continued to show their kindness, the couple said.
“We would wake up and there would be food on the deck, clothes for the baby,” Cory said. “The last year with all of the COVID, and the protests, and the election, the world got to be a dark place. This showed us there is a lot of good in the world."
Besides demonstrating to them another perspective about people's character, Brittany’s illness also has made the Kings less worried about things that would have once irritated them.
“The small things, you have to let go,” she said.