A 67-year-old woman in Michigan returned home this week after recovering from COVID-19 in the hospital for 196 days, one of the longest periods a patient has been hospitalized because of the pandemic.
“It completely changed my life,” Deanna Hair told NBC News. “The entire process, from feeling sick and going to the hospital to recovering and then rehab and being on a ventilator — all of it has just been so draining.”
Deanna and her husband, Ken Hair, of Ann Arbor, first reported symptoms after returning from a trip to California in mid-March. They both tested positive for COVID-19 on March 31, but while her husband experienced mild symptoms, Deanna was feverish, coughing and vomiting.
Three days later, Deanna was admitted to Michigan Medicine, where she was diagnosed with ischemic colitis, “essentially a dead gut,” said Dr. Philip Choi, a pulmonologist at the hospital.
“The condition is caused by reduced blood flow to the colon and for Deanna, the surgeons had to take out her colon,” Choi said. He added that studies have shown that COVID-19 patients in critical condition can develop major blood clots, and Deanna's doctors suspect the inflammation and COVID-19 are related.
Deanna was sedated and put on a ventilator for two-and-a-half months while her family waited with trepidation, said Ken, 71. Throughout her post-acute care, Deanna suffered multiple infections in her chest and abdomen and was diagnosed with sepsis when her kidneys failed.
Her husband and their three daughters were prohibited from seeing her due to strict COVID-19 measures — except to say goodbye.
“I thought she was going to die,” Ken, 71, said. “We were called in three separate times to say our final farewell, each time believing it was the last, but she somehow hung on and pulled through.”
“It was certainly a traumatic experience for all of us,” he said.
By June, Deanna tested negative for COVID-19 twice and was moved from the specialized COVID-19 intensive care unit to the regular one. As her condition gradually improved, she was transferred from the ICU to the main hospital, Choi said.
“There is something about her fighting spirit that got her through this because not everyone in this situation would have made it,” Ken said.
“When I was fighting for my life, my family was there each and every single day rooting for me,” Hair said. “It was that dedication and love, to have someone cheering me on, virtually or physically, and holding my hand when I was at my worst.”
In September, she started in-patient rehabilitation.
“Being sedated and bedridden for that long, you lose all of your muscle tone and you have to relearn basic human motions, even if it was just moving her face or just sitting up,” Ken said. She gradually grew stronger, eventually foregoing ventilation during the day.
After 196 days, her doctors determined she was strong enough to go home. On Thursday, Deanna was wheeled out of the hospital to a crowd of care workers, family and friends — “of course, with everyone wearing a mask,” she said.
She acknowledged that road ahead will be challenging and painstakingly slow. “For every day in the hospital, it takes two to get back to normal,” she said.
Deanna said she requires ventilation at night and can walk only 50 to 70 feet with a walker before resting. But she remains hopeful.
“I know it’s going to be difficult, but I have my support system, which has held and cared for me since walking into that hospital,” Deanna said. “It’s what kept me going and continues to keep me going.”
Her advice to others? “COVID is a deadly virus that kills,” she said. “You shouldn’t trifle with it, you should take all precautions, wear your mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing.”
Most importantly, she said, “Take care of yourself and the ones you love.”
This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.