Teen details terrifying Covid ICU ordeal: ‘I was broken’

·5-min read

A 17-year-old Victorian student has shared her harrowing account of how she came close to dying from Covid-19 when she became Australia's youngest patient on a ventilator in ICU.

In late August, Saela and her family caught Covid-19 as the state's Delta outbreak took hold. Initially they were worried about her grandmother given her age, but it was Saela who ended up in the ICU in a coma for nine days clinging to life.

"I thought I was safe, I was young and Covid would usually affect older people," she told reporters on Wednesday.

Saela, from the northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, explained her symptoms were worse than anyone in her family, she was having coughing fits that left her breathless.

Saela, 17, was hospitalised with Covid-19 in August this year. Source: AAP
Saela, 17, was hospitalised with Covid-19 in August this year. Source: AAP

In her second week of illness, Saela said her coughing fits got worse yet she tried to assure her family she was okay.

"But really, I was scared, and I was hoping I would get better. As I got worse, we had to call the ambulance," she said.

Mum hears daughter 'scream' while on the phone

Saela thought she would only be in hospital for a check up, but she got worse while in hospital and was told she had pneumonia. 

Michelle, Saela's mother, said she was shocked when she got the call from the doctor to say her daughter's health was deteriorating rapidly and she would need to be moved to the ICU and put on a ventilator.

Michelle pleaded with the doctor to let her speak to Saela before she was moved.

"He said it's 'best that you don't, she's so distressed', and before that call ended I heard her screaming," Michelle said. 

"I don't know if it's my imagination or it's a mother's intuition, but I heard her screaming."

Saela's mother, Michelle, believes she could hear her daughter screaming while she was on the phone to the hospital. Source: ABC
Saela's mother, Michelle, believes she could hear her daughter screaming while she was on the phone to the hospital. Source: ABC

Saela said there was so much commotion going at the hospital, she didn't know what was happening.

"I was so scared, I was screaming and I thought I was going to die," she said.

"And then I felt nothing, they had put me to sleep."

The next few days after Saela was placed on a ventilator, she was in a critical condition.

"It was hour by hour her lungs had filled with so much fluid, And there was a little air for her to breathe," Michelle said. 

"She needed a lot of help from the ventilator and I wish that she had been vaccinated, but it was too late. She was already in ICU."

Covid 'rips' through Melbourne family

While Michelle was worried for Saela in hospital, other members of her family started to get really sick.

Michelle's father tested positive for Covid, but he was fully vaccinated against Covid, her eldest son started to relapse and had high fevers and nausea.

Her husband, started coughing up blood, he didn't initially tell Michelle, but she said his coughing made him weak, he was struggling to breathe.

She watched an ambulance take another member of her family away.

"I wanted to be with Saela, with my husband, but I couldn't, I was still so sick with Covid myself, I couldn't risk another person getting this," Michelle said.

"I started to grieve. I thought someone was going to die and it was much easier for me to prepare for a loss than to hope. 

"I was watching Covid rip through every member of my family and hurt them and it was so painful and I couldn't do anything I was alone. I was helpless."

Fortunately, Michelle's husband came home from hospital after three days and was able to continue his recovery from home.

'I was broken'

Michelle got the all clear to see Saela in the ICU Covid ward, while she was still in a coma and on a ventilator, she said the scene was "daunting".

After nine days, Saela woke up, scared and alone.

She said at first she wasn't fully awake and she was hallucinating.

"I had a tube coming out of my neck, I couldn't move, I couldn't talk, I was scared to sleep again," she said.

"I just stared at the ceiling, and I was alone. There's so many machines around me, so many wires and needles, so much beeping and everything made me scared.

"I was broken, none of this was fair. For each passing day, I finally felt better. I started breathing on my own, and five days later, a wave goodbye to the ventilator."

Saela had to learn how to walk again, but she was able to get back home just in time for the AFL grand final, after spending a month in hospital, with 15 of those days in the ICU.

Calls to consider the vaccine

Michelle and Saela urged people to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

"I personally have seen how Covid has affected my family, from the fully vaccinated and unfortunately, to the unvaccinated like Saela," Michelle said.

Michelle believes her parents were protected from the virus because they were vaccinated.

"My parents should have been the most at risk because of their age, but they were vaccinated and they were okay," she said. 

Michelle watched Covid-19 'rip' through her family. Source: AAP
Michelle watched Covid-19 'rip' through her family. Source: AAP

"And Saela, she should have been the least at risk because of her age, but she wasn't vaccinated and she almost died."

Michelle said no family should have to go through what her family did, no parent should see their child suffer and die, or almost die.

"Don't leave it until it's too late, please consider the vaccine," Michelle said.

Wednesday marked the deadliest day of the outbreak so far, with Victoria recording 1571 new locally acquired infections and 13 deaths, taking the toll of the current outbreak to 114.

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