Jenny Hesse’s COVID Journey Leads to Vaccine Advocacy

By Garrett County Joint Information Center Team

When Jenny Hesse signed off for the day from her job as a Peer Recovery Coach at the Garrett County Health Department in mid-December last year, she had no idea it would be five months before she would be able to make it back to work. That day was the beginning of a journey that Hesse hopes and prays nobody else will every have to endure.

“I never want to see anyone go through that, ever, ever, ever!” Jenny said of her near-death experience with COVID-19. Once unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, Jenny got it as soon as her recovery allowed her to, and she’s now spreading the word. “If you can prevent this horrible illness by being a little uncomfortable for a day or two, why wouldn’t you? Just get it!”

The Hesse family COVID journey started with Jenny’s husband becoming sick enough that she took him to the Emergency Room and he was admitted. By that time, they had both tested positive and Jenny began to isolate to avoid sharing the virus with anyone else.

What Jenny doesn’t remember is that she became delirious. When she didn’t answer phone calls, her daughter picked her up and rushed her to the hospital where Jenny ended up in a room next to her husband. Jenny remembers eating roast beef for dinner one evening and then woke up 5 weeks later from a coma. The news was grim – her lungs were full of fibers, only three-quarters of one lung was working, her vocal cords could be permanently destroyed – the list went on.

“They woke me up out of a coma to tell me that they didn’t know if I would make it!” Jenny said. “That made me mad, and I thought ‘You don’t know me! I’m NOT going to die!’”

Jenny ended up with a tracheostomy, and then, two days later, her right lung collapsed. They had to insert 5 chest tubes to get it re-inflated.

“I could feel the pain while I was in the coma,” Jenny said. “It was so scary and so painful. My family thought I was going to die. I feel so bad that I put them through that.”

But Jenny didn’t die. After nearly 3 months in the hospital and a rehab clinic, Jenny made it home in early March.

“The aftermath was so bad,” she said. “I had to learn to walk again. You just want to be normal.” Jenny takes a “bag full” of medications because of what COVID did to her body – heart medications, blood thinners to keep blood clots from forming.

Jenny returned to work in mid-May. She’s only working three days a week to allow her body to continue to heal, and to work around her physical therapy and doctor appointments. Recent medical scans showed lots of scarring and permanent damage to her lungs. Her hair is still falling out by the handful. Deep breaths are a struggle, and the short walks necessary to strengthen her lungs still to leave her winded.

Her husband had his own battle with COVID, which included a two-week stay in the hospital, and another 5-weeks period of recuperating at home before he could return to work.

“I just want our story to make other people realize how important it is to get a vaccine,” Jenny said. “Please don’t wait. Get your vaccine now so you don’t have to go through what my family did!

Cutline: Jenny Hesse will probably always be dealing with some of the damages that COVID-19 caused to her body. In the March picture at left, Jenny is being cared for by a nurse in the rehabilitation facility after a long hospitalization. The tracheostomy, necessary because of the effects of COVID-19 on her body, was removed soon after this picture. At right, Jenny is shown in her office at the Garrett County Health Department one week after she was able to return to work in early May.