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LaVonne Gibbons, COVID-19 Survivor Encourages Everyone to Get Vaccinated: COVID is not a Game

Friday, April 23, 2021

Over 7000 people in Whiteside County have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Many were lucky and had mild symptoms that seemed to pass within few days. 165 community members and friends passed away as the virus overtook their respiratory and immune systems due to age or other health conditions. And then there were many others – like 63-year-old Tampico resident, LaVonne Gibbons – who although they ended up in the “98-99% survival” category, had to fight for their life in the hospital for several weeks or even months. This is her story:

LaVonne, like many others unfortunately, was afraid to get the COVID-19 vaccine. She felt like it was rushed and had come out too soon, and she declined the vaccine when it was offered to her. So, when she became sick in January of 2021, she thought she had the stomach flu. “I was running a temperature, had diarrhea, and had no appetite,” she said. “I didn’t have any headaches, vomiting or cough, and I hadn’t lost my taste or smell…nothing would have made me think I had COVID. In fact, they were the same symptoms I had six years ago when I got really sick with the flu. All I did then was lay down under my covers and it went away.”

After a full week of being sick and calling off work, her boss asked her to please consider getting tested for COVID. “She said it was my choice to be tested, and I will forever be grateful that she suggested that to me. But following the positive test result, I should have known enough to come to the hospital right then. That’s how sick I was, and I was getting weaker and weaker.”

That Saturday, LaVonne found that she could barely pull herself out of bed. She took a shower and didn’t have the energy to dry off. When her son, also a Tampico resident, called to check on her, he noticed that she was sounding much worse. “I told him to give me an hour to get ready, and he could take me to the hospital. But I couldn’t do it…I didn’t even have the strength to dress myself,” she said as tears welled in her eyes. “That’s how sick I was.”

“He called the ambulance, and when they arrived, one of the paramedics was someone I had known for years,” LaVonne continued. “She came in, talked to me so sweetly and helped me get dressed. It was so very scary…I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t sit at the edge of the bed. I was just a body that couldn’t do anything. I’m always doing something for somebody…and now I couldn’t even do anything for myself.”

After arriving at CGH Medical Center’s Emergency Room, everything became a blur. “I remember being brought up to the 4th floor (Critical Care Unit), and I remember them putting a bi-pap mask on me. I remember discussions about possibly putting me on a ventilator or needing lung transplants, and I began to think to myself that I was never going to recover. Other than that, all I remember was wanting them to leave me alone and let me sleep,” she said. “But thank God, for the next month, they didn’t leave me alone.”

“They would look at me through the window to check on me and come hold my hand,” she said. “One of the nurses would hold me and feed me while raising and lowering my mask just so I could eat and breathe. She was like an angel watching out for me. They helped me through my anxiety, brought me small gifts to bring a smile to my face, and – once I was able to eat on my own and talk on the phone – they would watch me through the door and remind me to breathe since I could lose my breath so quickly. I can’t explain how wonderful they all were. Their love and care was just phenomenal. Without them – and the many prayers from all of the CGH staff and my friends and family – I don’t think I would have made it.”

LaVonne is very grateful for her second chance at life and is now urging others to not only get vaccinated- because COVID is not a game - but to also live a healthier lifestyle. “I know now that I would not have gotten as sick if I would have just taken the vaccine to help build my immunity. Luckily, before this happened, I was doing a lot of walking, was eating healthy and had lost some weight. Maybe God knew this was going to happen and He pushed me in the right direction. I wonder how COVID would have affected my lungs if I hadn’t been doing all that.”

“All in all, I just hope my story will help someone else,” LaVonne said. “People think COVID is a joke. If they could see the condition that I came in here in, they’d believe everything. If you’re sick, get tested. If you’re really sick, get to the hospital. And if you have a chance to get the COVID vaccine, please get it. Maybe if I would have gotten the vaccine, or if I had come in as soon as I was running a temperature and tested positive, things would have been easier. I’ll never know that, but I do know I’m not invincible,” she said with a smile. “Having COVID can be a nightmare…something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Nothing shakes your reality until you see yourself basically lifeless.”

LaVonne continues breathing therapies and leg exercises to help regain her strength and still struggles with her oxygen levels. She is looking forward to spending more time with her family of three daughters, a son, 17 grandchildren and six great grandchildren once the pandemic is over. “I think this was God’s way of saying it’s time to slow down,” LaVonne said as she rubbed her gold ring engraved with the word “Faith”. “I worked hard to raise my children, and I think I have no choice this time…it’s time to focus on myself.”