Milton teen hospitalized with COVID-19 is now walking, talking and out of ICU
Halene O'Connell, the 16-year-old Milton girl with COVID-19 who was clinging to life on a ventilator just eight days ago, has been moved out of the Intensive Care Unit and her family is "cautiously optimistic" she could soon fully recover.
Halene was moved from the ICU to a regular hospital bed Wednesday evening after her condition improved steadily over the past week, according to her aunt, Carmen Barlianto. She had been in the ICU for a total of 18 days and on a ventilator and in a coma for 12 of those days.
“Yesterday they moved her out of the ICU, which is a huge step,” Barlianto told the Pensacola News Journal in a phone interview Thursday. “They did a little parade, and it was very emotional for her and my sister (Halene’s mother, Carrie O’Connell).”
Halene's medical team at The Studer Family Children's Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola got a pair of red boxing gloves for Halene as a symbol of being a "COVID-19 fighter," and all of her nurses and doctors signed the gloves. She wore them as she was wheeled from her ICU bed to a regular hospital bed.
“She cried a lot moving to the other floor, because she’s just beginning to realize all the help that it’s taken and the dedication from the medical staff for her fight,” Barlianto said. “It was a very emotional day yesterday for the whole staff, they were all crying.”
Halene 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 children's hospital in Pensacola.
Halene's condition was "up and down" every day, according to her aunt. However, she was finally removed from her ventilator July 9 and has slowly been coming out of her coma ever since. Barlianto said the teenager has started to do things like sit up and stand for a few minutes at a time and can walk about 10 steps before becoming too tired and weak.
She still can't text or use her cellphone, which is "hard for a 16-year-old girl," Barlianto joked.
Mentally, she's also beginning to realize what happened to her, and how close she came to not surviving.
“She’s awake and coherent, but she sleeps a lot because she gets tired so quickly,” Barlianto said. “She’s focused on her physical therapy. It’s a process. They just shared with her that she was on such a high setting on the ventilator that they were really concerned she wasn’t going to make it, even with her being so young.”
Doctors are also continuing to evaluate what the long-term effects of the coronavirus will be on Halene, which could take some time. For now, Halene and her mom, Carrie, who has been quarantined in the hospital with her daughter since day one, are taking things day by day and hoping to return home soon.
Halene's father, Robert, and sister, Hailey, haven't seen the teen since she was admitted to the hospital due to visitation restrictions.
Barlianto said the O'Connell family is floored by the outpouring of support from the community and hopes Halene's story can reach all corners of the earth so people can realize what happened to her can happen to them, too. They are still reiterating their pleas for people to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands frequency.
“Her story has traveled the world, and we love it. It helps us get through this,” Barlianto said. “Also, wear your mask. This isn’t political. A lot of people maybe have gotten COVID and their symptoms aren’t as severe, but why even risk it because you just don’t know until it hits you, and then it’s too late. Mask up, it’s not a big deal.”
Annie Blanks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8632.