Jazmina's Story

Jazmina Merced sitting in her wheelchair with her therapists.

Jazmina Merced, 61, is a talented cook who enjoyed sharing the love of her native cuisine with her family, including her six grandchildren, and with diners in the Nicaraguan-style restaurant where she worked. Dependent on frequent dialysis due to her end-stage renal disease, Jazmina and her family took COVID-19 precautions quite seriously, but Jazmina also worked long hours in the restaurant to help maintain her household and support her family. When she initially experienced cold-like symptoms, she hoped they would pass, but her symptoms worsened and in turn triggered other medical complications that would significantly change her life.

Admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with COVID-19, Jazmina’s breathing was so labored that she received a tracheotomy, a surgical procedure that creates an opening in the neck to insert a tube into the windpipe for breathing assistance. However, Jazmina also experienced a condition called tracheal stenosis which causes the tracheotomy to close. In order to maintain the airflow to her lungs, she had to undergo multiple procedures to ensure that her airway would remain open. During her acute hospital stay she also developed dysphagia (trouble swallowing) and could no longer eat through her mouth resulting in the placement of a feeding tube.

After Jazmina was medically stabilized, nearly a year after first being hospitalized with the virus, she was admitted to West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital to continue her long recovery. As a result of her prolonged illness, Jazmina had the following challenges: she was unable to walk, speak or use her arms. Her goals were to restore all of those faculties. The first morning did not go as planned. Jazmina fell into respiratory arrest. The quick action of respiratory therapists using a manual resuscitator to pump 100 percent oxygen into her lungs saved Jazmina’s life.

Upon stabilizing, Jazmina remained on supplemental oxygen as her therapists got back to work, first working to improve her movement while in bed, then transferring in and out of bed using a piece of equipment called the Sara Steady. Jazmina also learned how to get out of bed using a transfer board to increase her independence.

During the first week in therapy, Jazmina drastically improved her strength and movement. Despite being limited by medical complications, fatigue and pain in her legs, Jazmina was able to reposition herself in bed, use the transfer board to get in and out of bed and stand on her own for longer periods. After improving her balance, Jazmina began walking on the LiteGait system which is a harness that supports the patient while walking with supervision. Therapists applied braces to her legs to provide ankle support and keep her joints in a healthy position while she walked. They also worked with Jazmina using the Nustep machine which is a training machine used to strengthen the legs.

Additionally, Jazmina’s team focused on getting her more independent in the areas of dressing and grooming as well as working on breathing techniques to help decrease fatigue. Her speech therapist focused on her difficulties in swallowing.

As her strength and balance improved, Jazmina began using a rolling walker and was introduced to the exercise bike as well as working on activities of daily living in a simulated home environment. Jazmina and her therapy team were extremely proud of her accomplishments.

At discharge, Jazmina was able to walk 50 feet using her rolling walker on indoor and outdoor surfaces, navigate turns and step over curbs. She had also decreased her dependence on supplemental oxygen and could independently groom herself and propel her own wheelchair.

Although Jazmina’s journey to recovery was not easy, she was grateful to have had a strong support team. Her family took turns visiting every day and participated in family education to prepare for her return home. Jazmina’s physical and occupational therapists helped keep her spirits high as they encouraged her through the difficult days and celebrated when she reached her goals.

Upon returning home, Jazmina was most looking forward to meeting and spending time with her granddaughter who was born during her hospitalization. She describes her overall experience at West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital as, “Just great! I am extremely grateful for all the staff that cared for me. I’ve learned that I can overcome anything.”

For others on their rehabilitation journey, Jazmina shares: “Trust your therapists throughout the process as they only want you to safely reach your goals.”