A 33-year-old woman from the Southwest Alaska village of Pilot Station returned home on Feb. 8 after spending over two months in hospitals because of COVID-19.
Nastasia “Bea” Xavier recovered from a medically-induced coma at the University of Washington Medical Center.
Xavier’s family and friends call her Bea. Her older brother, Joe Xavier, helped give her the name. At the end of November 2020, the same older brother checked into Pilot Station’s health clinic a day before she did. They both had COVID-19.
They struggled to breathe, and were put on oxygen.
Xavier said her brother was in worse shape, so she fought to recover quickly so he could use her oxygen concentrator as well as his own.
“When my breathing got good, I gave my oxygen to him,” Xavier said. “He need it more than I do.”
It wasn’t enough. Poor weather conditions prevented a medevac from arriving in Pilot Station for three days. Xavier and her mother, Thecla Xavier, were at the clinic with Joe during his final moments, but COVID-19 left Xavier no time to grieve.
On Thanksgiving, the day after her brother died, Xavier was medevaced to Bethel. She developed pneumonia and needed to be put on a ventilator, so she was then flown to Seattle, Wash.
Dr. Kevin Patel, the medical director at the UW Medical Center ICU, said her vital organs started to fail, one after another. Patel said he had only seen a handful of patients as sick as her during the pandemic.
“There were many times where it was hour-to-hour, especially in the beginning,” Patel said. “We weren’t sure whether Nastasia would survive to the next hour.”
Xavier was put into a medically-induced coma. Patel said her body was connected to machines performing the functions of her lungs, her kidneys and her heart.
“Very few people survive this type of situation,” Patel said.
And yet, Xavier did.
On Jan. 7, she woke from the coma.
“I was confused where I was,” she said. “I couldn’t talk. I had to learn sign language. It was, like — so far. I’m so far away from home. I was thinking of my kids.”
Coming out of the coma was far from the end of Xavier’s COVID-19 journey. It took weeks to carefully disconnect her from the ventilator, dialysis machine and blood oxygenator that took care of vital functions while she was unconscious.
She began the process of fighting to regain abilities as simple as standing.
“It was hard,” Xavier said. “Like baby steps. Learn slowly.”
On Feb. 5, more than two months after she first checked into the health clinic in Pilot Station, Xavier was discharged from the hospital.
Her recovery is a testament to her personal strength, and the legions of doctors and nurses who aided her. Patel said during the course of her nearly two-month stay at the UW Medical Center, more than 100 medical professionals were involved in her care.
“At the peak, on any one day, I would say at least 10 people involved all at the same time,” Patel said.
When it was time to go home, a familiar face arrived to help. A doctor from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation flew to Seattle to be Xavier’s escort.
Months after she left Pilot Station, Xavier was able to return to her friends and family.
“My kids were the first ones to come up to me. I hugged them really tight. My oldest one was really happy. She started crying,” Xavier said.
Coming home, Xavier felt how much time had passed: One of her older sisters had white hair now, she said. And her two girls had grown so much without her.
“My oldest is same height as me now,” Xavier said. “My five-year-old girl, she’s starting to learn her math.”
For Xavier’s mother, Thecla, her daughter’s return has been as sweet as the previous few months were painful. At times, she said, she thought she would have to burn a second child’s clothes.
“She is a miracle,” she said. “She is my miracle child.”
Xavier said by coming home, she was just fulfilling the promise she made to her mom when she was first medevaced to Bethel. She said she called her mom, and said, “I’m a fighter. I’m going to fight this to be alive. I’m gonna fight this for my family and my kids.”
Xavier still has a fight ahead to fully recover from her COVID-19 complications, but the battles are becoming more manageable.
The morning after arriving in Pilot Station, she was making breakfast for her family by herself, on her own two feet.
Much like COVID-19, bacon, eggs and pancakes were no match for Bea Xavier.