SALT LAKE CITY — The novel coronavirus has taken a deadly toll on so many throughout the world, and for those who do recover it's not easy. One Utah woman believes staying active and healthy before she got sick made a difference in her survival.
Kimberly Ishoy loves competing in triathlons. However, the 52-year-old says her Type 1 diabetes makes her an unlikely athlete.
"I had always crossed the finish line last. I'm not fast, but I'm passionate about it and I enjoy it," she said. "I remember thinking at the beginning of every race or event, ‘Why am I doing this to myself? Why do I keep doing this? I'm so bad at it."
She was disappointed she wasn’t seeing the results she had hoped for, like weight loss or increased speed. But she believes her hard work eventually helped her fight the coronavirus in May.
"Ultimately, when I was in that respiratory ICU, I realized that I got the results that my body needed," she explained. "What I needed what a strong heart [and] strong lungs."
The week before Memorial Day, Ishoy started to feel ill after a few of her family members tested positive for coronavirus. She said at first it just felt like the seasonal flu. Ishoy kept working from home, but her symptoms quickly progressed. She lost her appetite, had a headache, was dizzy, and experienced extreme fatigue.
"I was propped up on a chair to be able to be in video calls for company meetings, and then in between calls, I'd put my head down on the table and fall asleep till the next one," she recalled.
By the second week, Ishoy experienced a high fever which climbed to 104 degrees, she said. She was first admitted to Riverton Hospital, and then later transferred to the ICU at Intermountain Medical Center.
When I was in the respiratory ICU, there was some pretty dark moments where it didn't look good. I was on the phone with my family and I was sort of saying my goodbyes.
–Kimberly Ishoy, COVID-19 survivor
Ishoy spent a total of eight days in the hospital with pneumonia, anemia, a blood infection, and really low oxygen levels. "My oxygen saturation level was only at 70%, which meant that any oxygen I was taking in was not getting utilized," Ishoy said.
Her condition only worsened.
"When I was in the respiratory ICU, there was some pretty dark moments where it didn't look good," Ishoy recalled. "I was on the phone with my family and I was sort of saying my goodbyes."
Intermountain Heatlhcare’s ICU Dr. Peter Crossno recognized the severity of her case. "She was admitted to an ICU with the concern that she could die from this," Crossno said.
However, Crossno quickly realized Ishoy was an athlete when he saw her low heart rate. "I looked up at the heart monitor, and I was completely surprised… I think her resting heart rate was about 55," he said.
Ishoy told him, "I'm a really bad athlete. I'm really slow," but he responded by saying, "I don't think it matters!"
"I knew at that point that we're dealing with a person that’s healthy, (and) that takes care of themselves," Crossno said.
He tells Utahns now is the time to be making healthy decisions like exercising regularly and eating responsibly.
"A healthier individual has a better chance of surviving their stay in the ICU than somebody who is chronically unhealthy, "he explained.
Crossno says it’s also important for people to stabilize any long-term, chronic illnesses they have before they get sick, because it can make a difference in how well someone recovers from COVID-19.
"As we know with a lot of medical conditions that are poorly controlled, that leads to increased risk, especially when you're critically ill," he said.
Ishoy was able to manage her own insulin pump when she was in the hospital since she was the expert of her glucose control and diabetes condition.
"My blood sugar has actually stayed in great control throughout the virus, and I was grateful for that because that would help protect my immune system," Ishoy explained.
"I think that discipline is really what pays off," Crossno said.
Today Ishoy continues to monitor her oxygen levels at home with an oximeter and is anxious for the day when she can get back on her bike.
"I am very, very grateful," she said.
Kimberly also attributes her recovery to being compliant to her doctor's orders. Crossno had her practice prone positioning, which required her to lay on her stomach to increase her oxygen levels. He also asked her to occasionally mobilize and abstain from food at times to prevent her lung disease from getting worse.
"No matter what they asked, even if I thought it wouldn't make a difference, I just did it because I wanted to give myself a fighting chance to be able to move forward," she explained.
As always, Crossno encourages Utahns to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"Compliance with masks and social distancing, preventing yourself from getting sick in the first place," he listed.
As an ICU doctor, Crossno’s seen a lot. He treated patients during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and says COVID-19 patients are generally quite a bit sicker. "We can't let this go out of control. We don't have the resources to let this get out of control, and so I think we need to take this extremely seriously," he said.
Despite following state guidelines, Ishoy still got sick. "We wore masks. I'd only been to the grocery store twice during the whole pandemic," Ishoy said.
She reminds the public to not assume someone did something wrong if they get COVID-19. "It’s a virus and all of us may end up getting it or may already have had it but not realized it. That it doesn't mean they did anything wrong. We need to support each other," she said.
Looking back, Ishoy is grateful she exercised regularly and kept her diabetes in control before she got sick with COVID-19. "I keep doing what I can and it ultimately made a difference in my recovery for Coronavirus," she said.
She urges others to be cautious. "You don't know who's vulnerable, and so even if you aren't worried about it, there are people that this will impact very dramatically and it's scary when that happens," Ishoy said.