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'This is a miracle:' 16-year-old Florida teen hospitalized with COVID-19 gets off ventilator

Annie Blanks Pensacola News
Journal
Walton Sun

Halene O'Connell, the 16-year-old Milton girl who has been in the ICU for 12 days with COVID-19, came off her ventilator Thursday in what family is saying is nothing short of "a miracle."

The teen has been on a ventilator and in a coma since she was admitted to the hospital with severe COVID-19 symptoms about two weeks ago. After receiving a plasma donation from a coronavirus survivor, the teen's condition began to improve and her aunt, Carmen Barlianto, shared Thursday afternoon that she had finally been taken off the ventilator.

The ventilator is out

“She’s still on oxygen, but the ventilator is out and she’s coming off sedation,” Barlianto said in a tearful video update posted to the family’s GoFundMe page. “This is wonderful, wonderful news. She’s still in the ICU, we have lots to go through, but this is the right direction, the first step.”

O'Connell first began experiencing a fever and nausea on June 22, but doctors initially sent her home without testing her for coronavirus, thinking it was just a bug. However, by June 28, she couldn't even breathe while walking to the bathroom and was rushed to The Studer Family Children's Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, where she's remained comatose since.

The teenager, whose family said was perfectly healthy before contracting the virus, is slowly coming out of her coma. But the road to recovery is still long. Since being in the hospital, she's lost 20 pounds, is experiencing hallucinations and has had multiple ultrasounds done on her stomach, heart and lungs to determine the extent of the damage the virus caused.

A very long coma

She'll also have to learn how to breathe, walk and eat again on her own due to being in a coma for so long.

But coming off the ventilator Thursday after such a long battle has given the family hope that the young girl will pull through.

“This is the first step. We couldn’t ask for anything better,” Barlianto said, reiterating her plea for people to wear their face masks and socially distance from each other. “Please continue praying and keeping her and the family in your thoughts, and sharing her story to raise awareness. She’s only 16.

“I can’t tell you how hard this medical team has been working, and who knows when they’re going to be done,” she added. “She’s been in the hospital for some time now I’m afraid, but this is a miracle. She’s coming out of it.”

Annie Blanks can be reached at ablanks@pnj.com or 850-435-8632.

This story originally published to pnj.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.