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Severe COVID can be avoided by taking the vaccine

  • Author: Kristi Gabriel
  • Date Submitted: Sep 2, 2021

"Don’t wait until next week or next month, make your appointment or walk in to get your vaccine today! Trust me when I say that you don’t want to go through what I’ve gone through." ~ Kristi Gabriel

Editor’s note: Recently, Kristi Gabriel came to Campbell County Health wanting to share her COVID-19 survival story. Kristi worked at CCMH as a respiratory therapist for nearly 15 years. Kristi was given a 1% chance of surviving COVID and now she wants to share her story to help you avoid what happened to her.

My name is Kristi Gabriel—I’m 42 years old and live in Gillette, Wyoming. I am a retired respiratory therapist. I am sharing my experience with Covid with our community to bring awareness as to how important, real and devastating this virus truly is.

I was diagnosed with Covid prior to a vaccine being available. My symptoms included fever (104 degrees), fatigue, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, loss of taste and smell, headache, nausea and vomiting. Within a few days, I developed shortness of breath and my oxygen saturation began dropping below 90% (90-100% is normal). I went to the emergency department at Campbell County Memorial Hospital and was sent home on oxygen. After being sent home with oxygen, my oxygen saturation on my pulse oximeter monitor at home was still dropping below 90%. I went to CCMH again and was admitted to the hospital with Bilateral Pneumonia from Covid, which caused low oxygen saturation.

Once admitted, I was initially placed on high levels of oxygen via a nasal cannula. My oxygen saturation continued to drop. Then I was placed on a CPAP machine, which is a mask that covers your mouth and nose that delivered pressure and oxygen into my lungs. I was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) due to my increased shortness of breath and worsening oxygen saturation. My oxygen saturation continued to drop, my pneumonia continued to get worse and I developed ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). ARDS is a condition where fluid collects in the lungs and small air sacs (Alveoli). The fluid prevents your lungs from filling with enough air, thus depriving your body and organs of oxygen. ARDS is often fatal. I was then placed into a medically induced coma and intubated with a breathing tube in my airway and connected to a ventilator. The ventilator provided pressure and oxygen into my lungs. Despite being on a ventilator my oxygen saturation continued to drop. Physicians and medical staff weren’t certain that I would survive as my condition was rapidly deteriorating.

I was then life flighted to Billings, Mont, and immediately taken to the operating room to have ECMO cannulas placed in my neck and groin that went into my heart. I was then placed on an ECMO machine (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), which was the last possible option to save my life.

An ECMO machine replaces the function of the heart and lungs, and works by pumping the blood out of the body, adding oxygen and removes carbon dioxide, warms the blood and returns the blood back into the body. While I was on the ECMO machine, they had to give me a paralytic medication to prevent my body from moving and accidental removal of my life-saving equipment.

While I was on ECMO I also lost a lot of blood, therefore requiring four blood transfusions. I also had a lot of mucous in my lungs from the pneumonia and ARDS, which required multiple bronchoscopies. A bronchoscopy is a thin long tube with a camera with a light used to view inside the airway and can be used to suction out mucous. While they were performing the Bronchoscopy, I began having a seizure that lasted 15 minutes. Other complications I experienced was inability to produce urine and a bowel obstruction. Both of those complications were treated and eventually resolved. I had never experienced any of these problems until contracting Covid.

I was in a medically induced coma for approximately two weeks. Physicians were not sure if my lungs would recover while I was on ECMO. They instructed my family that I may require a lung transplant in order to survive, but only time would tell. During that time, I received convalescent plasma, which is portion of blood from others who have recovered from Covid. The donated blood is processed to remove blood cells, leaving behind liquid (plasma) and the antibodies. I also received the medication called Remdesivir to help treat Covid. During the time I was in the hospital, no family members could come to the hospital or be in my room. That was very difficult as they wanted to do anything they could to be there for me and to help. After several weeks in the medical induced coma, my body started to improve and I was gradually weaned from the ECMO machine and ventilator.

When I woke, I was still requiring oxygen via nasal cannula. I had no idea where I was, why I was there or what was wrong with me. I had no recollection of contracting Covid or going into the hospital or emergency department. I have very little memory while I was sick with Covid and about two weeks before I got ill. At first, it was very difficult for me to understand. I experienced brain fog as well.

While in a medical induced coma, my body experienced severe muscle deconditioning. After getting off of life support, my symptoms included severe weakness, loss of strength, fatigue, shortness of breath with minimal body movement accompanied with rapid heart rate. I was so weak I couldn’t lift my arm in the air, or even take a drink without someone holding a cup for me. I could not brush my own hair or even brush my teeth. I could not walk. It took two people to help me to just stand. It was incredibly difficult to be patient and ask for others to do everything for me.

My Pulmonologist in the Billings hospital came to visit me the day after I was taken off the ventilator. She was describing to me how sick I was and how close to death I was. She was on the Life Flight with me when I was transferred from Gillette to Billings, and was very concerned that I would not survive the flight, let alone survive ECMO cannula placement surgery. She was shocked to see I survived ECMO and was able to get off the ventilator. Most patients who are that ill do not survive. I also had several ICU nurses that kept coming to check on me. They absolutely could not believe I was recovering so well. I was extremely blessed and fortunate to be their miracle patient.

I was eventually discharged from Billings hospital to my home in Gillette. When my husband picked me up from the hospital, I was too weak to even get into our vehicle. I will never forget how comforting that hug was that we gave each other outside of the hospital, just so blessed and thankful to be alive and together again. He had to help lift me into our truck because I was too weak to get in myself.

I was discharged home on oxygen and required oxygen 24 hours a day for three months. At first, I required maximal assistance to perform the activities of daily living, including bathing, personal care and dressing as I was too weak to do that for myself. The first two months after getting off life support, I experienced daily headaches. Within three months, I was able to fully care for myself and no longer needed assistance to bathe and dress myself. I can’t thank my husband enough for the wonderful care he provided when I needed him the most. He is such an amazing man, always willing to help others. We are truly blessed.

It has now been six months since I was discharged from the hospital. I am still requiring oxygen at night while sleeping. I still have occasional weakness, fatigue and heart palpitations, which is really noticed when trying to do anything that requires physical activity (such as walking or household tasks). I also still experience occasional brain fog but it isn’t nearly as severe as it was the first few months after my illness.

A couple months after getting home from the hospital I experienced massive hair loss from being so ill. I lost approximately 50% of my hair that fell out over the course of about a month. My hair is starting to grow back, but will be months until it returns to normal. I have also experienced significant vision loss after getting off life support and ECMO, which is not common according to my Optometrist. Even with the long-term symptoms, I am beyond blessed to be here today!

I was so fortunate to have such wonderful staff at Campbell County Health who recognized how ill I was and got me transferred to Billings so quickly. If I would have stayed in Gillette on a ventilator for any longer before being transferred, I wouldn’t be here today. The quick response on their part and getting me transferred so quickly is what saved my life. I can’t thank Campbell County Health medical staff (especially Respiratory Therapy) enough for saving my life! The medical staff of physicians, nurses, respiratory therapy among many others are truly are my heroes!

I am also so blessed to have been transferred to Billings by Guardian Life Flight, even in the extreme cold! They were exceptional!

Additionally, I cannot thank Billings Clinic Hospital enough for the extraordinary critical care team including ECMO team who saved my life! I’m beyond blessed to have been so fortunate to have such an incredible compassionate medical team provide such wonderful care.

I have seen multiple physicians that have told me I had a less than 1% chance of survival with as sick as I got from Covid. I am by far one of the sickest patients to survive Covid and recover. There are many others that have been severely ill and weren’t lucky enough to have ECMO available or to survive. I feel truly blessed to be here today to share my story with others.

I do not want others to go through what I have been through. I care about others and find it very devastating to hear others being treated for severe Covid illness when most of the severe illness can be avoided with the vaccine. I never thought I would get ill myself because we live in a lower populated state, I wore a mask and took proper precautions to avoid Covid; yet it still happened to me. Please think about your family, parents and children. If nothing else, please get vaccinated for them. Don’t wait until next week or next month, make your appointment or walk in to get your vaccine today! Trust me when I say that you don’t want to go through what I’ve gone through. It’s devastating physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and financially for not only me, but for my family and friends. If you have any questions or concerns about the vaccine, please contact your primary care physician.

None of us are promised tomorrow. Do your part for yourself and for others you love and care about by getting your vaccine today!

Reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19

Like other respiratory illnesses, COVID-19 is believed to be mainly spread from person to person. To prevent illness and avoid being exposed to the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others, covering coughs and sneezes, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily. To learn more about COVID-19 in Campbell County, Wyoming, visit

CCH encourages you to talk with your health care provider about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. To learn where you can get a COVID-19 vaccine in Campbell County, Wyoming, or for more information about COVID-19 vaccines, please visit

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